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Romney: Not ready for prime time


THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2004, NEW YORK -- That's it? That's the best he could do? Remember, Mitt Romney's speech Wednesday evening was the biggest moment of his political career. It was the his chance to dazzle a captive national audience -- to show that, come 2008, his name belongs in the mix with Rudy and John and Jeb. But the governor of Massachusetts (or, as Romney called it earlier this week, " our little state" ) didn't rise to the occasion. If Romney and his inner circle could swap his speech yesterday with the ones he delivered Monday or Tuesday, you can be sure they would. Instead, Team Romney now has to deconstruct last night's thoroughly mediocre effort and move on.

One problem with Romney's speech was its non-linear moments -- spots where you wondered how he got from A to B, or why X wasn't followed by Y. File his opening lines under the former: " I'm proud to be from Massachusetts, where John Kerry will be the junior senator for four more years. You see, I don't believe Senator Kerry is the leader our country needs." Huh? Near the end of his time at the podium, meanwhile, the governor rehashed an anecdote from Turnaround that's sure to conclude every Romney stump speech if he goes national. It's about Derek Parra, the Olympic speed skater, carrying the flag that flew above the World Trade Center on September 11 into the opening ceremonies in Salt Lake. Take us back, Mitt: " Derek maintained his composure as the national anthem was sung, but then the choir surprised him by singing a reprise of the last line: 'O say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, oe'r the land of the free and the home of the brave.' And then a gust of wind lifted the flag in his hands. Derek said it was as if it came from the countless men and women who had paid the price for America's freedoms -- a breath from above that stirred the hearts of those of us below, who will always remember them." And then the story stopped! What happened next? Did Derek lose his composure? Romney forgot to tell us.

Romney made other missteps as well. As he shifted from an angry denunciation of the " Blame America First crowd" into Recollections of Salt Lake, the governor adopted an expression that can only be described as smug and self-satisfied. (Have you heard about how Romney rescued Olympics, by the way? If not, he'd be happy to tell you.) Also, when Romney referenced September 11, it sounded like he was about to say " October 11" before catching himself at the last second. Romney also botched his riff on Bill Clinton's " Send John Kerry!" chant from the DNC by telling the Madison Square Garden audience to " Send in John Kerry!" if they wanted higher taxes, cuts in intelligence funding, etc. It was decent material, but it would have worked better if Romney had nailed the delivery. Finally, and most troubling, Romney's assertion that America is " under attack from almost every direction" -- with its equation of Al Qaeda, foreign labor, and gay marriage -- was paranoid and incendiary.

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that Romney looked good in comparison to Kerry Healey. I first interviewed the lieutenant governor during her stint as state party chairman a few years back, and I've always been impressed by her charisma and intellect. But this GOP hatchet woman schtick is making her look bad. Healey excels when she pitches Republicanism to a politically undecided audience, but yesterday, knocking Kerry's years as Michael Dukakis' lieutenant governor, Healey came across more snarky high schooler than high-ranking elected official. And that giggling at the end of certain lines? What was up with that? Gravitas, Lieutenant Governor, gravitas.


Issue Date: September 2, 2004
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