Tropical storm Isaac has pushed back Mitt Romney's official nomination as the Republicans' presidential candidate. He has much work to do at the G.O.P. convention to assure the party base that he is the right choice.
It looks like Mitt Romney is making every effort to come across as an easygoing fellow. With sleeves rolled up and shirt unbuttoned at the top, he sported a causal look at a recent campaign stop at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. There, one of his supporters wanted to know if Romney thought it was time to increase government control of the Federal Reserve. But even before the audience member finished asking his question, Romney seemingly tried to further convey his laid back image with a lighthearted anecdote.
He recounted how he just couldn't get the audience to laugh at a previous meeting at the military academy in Charleston, South Carolina. But, Romney continued, it all changed when one of the young cadets asked him how he felt about a certain baseball player transferring form the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees. It was at that moment, the presidential candidate gleefully said, that he was able to break the ice by saying, "We all hate the Yankees!"
However, the anecdote only drew an incredulous shake of the head from the New Hampshire supporter, who was himself wearing a Yankees t-shirt.
Situations like these reveal Romney's weakness. He is widely considered clumsy and aloof, unable to make a real connection with voters. The common perception in the US is that he frequently has a hard time understanding the concerns of everyday people. All this clearly shows in the opinion polls. In a USA Today/Gallup survey, President Barack Obama drew more respondents saying he understood Americans' daily challenges than Romney. Moreover, 70 percent of respondents said they liked the president, but only 30 percent said the same of the Republican challenger.
Successful corporate adviser
Romney manages to score points in a different field, though.
"I've got real life experience," he said. "I know how the private sector works, how to create a business, and how that changes lives."
Romney himself graduated from Harvard with degrees in business management and law, and he began his working career in 1978 at the Boston-based consulting firm Bain & Company. He worked himself up to the rank of vice president. By 1984, he was founding partner at Bain Capital, an investment company that bought up businesses with financial difficulties and restructured and sold them.
Romney has proudly said more than 100,000 jobs were created through Bain Capital. But he profited every time a business was taken apart, sold and its employees let go.The Obama campaign has honed in on this to portray Romney as a merciless destroyer of jobs, and who, on top of that, has to pay less taxes for all his profits than the average American does.
Although the Republican has claimed he never paid less than 13 percent in income taxes over the past decade, he has only publicly shared his 2010 taxes. The maximum US income tax lies at 35 percent.
A believing Mormon
What the 2010 tax report does reveal is an overall income of $21.1 million (16.9 million euros), mostly from investments, which explains his relatively low tax rate. Romney donated $3 million to charitable causes - half of it to the conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Romney's Mormonism has drawn skepticism especially from conservative Christians within the Republican party.
As a result, Romney long avoided any mention of his beliefs. He has only recently spoken more openly about them. Journalists were invited to join him attending mass. For the party convention in Tampa, Florida, he has asked a Mormon to speak a prayer on the day of his nomination as presidential candidate. If he wins, Romney will be the first Mormon president.
He would also be the first president in recent memory to know French - another personal fact that Romney prefers not to mention too often. Mormons consider it part of the process of becoming an adult to do missionary work abroad, and Romney spent two years in France.
There are other parts of his biography that raise questions. While Romney likes to point out that he saved the Salt Lake City Olympic Games from bankruptcy, and that he reduced the state deficit as governor of Massachusetts, he finds it difficult to explain why he opposes President Obama's health care legislation. After all, Obama's health care reform was based on the very package Romney himself signed as Massachusetts governor in 2006.
A good choice for conservatives?
There are more topics Romney has changed his views on. For instance, he has come to oppose abortion. He often finds it hard to present himself as a clear alternative to Obama. One example of that is Afghanistan policy.
Romney has said he will do everything in his power to complete the US security handover to Afghanistan as soon as possible, bring troops home, and complete the US mission so Afghanistan does not become a terrorist hideout once again.
However, that is exactly what Obama has said he wants to achieve by the end of 2014.
Romney still has a loyal base of supporters, apparently including the man in the Yankees shirt in New Hampshire. In spite of Romney's unfortunate joke, the man answered, "I support winners, and that's why I support you."
Romney went on to give the reply the Yankees fan was likely hoping for - that the Federal Reserve would have to be more firmly regulated and all government agencies need stronger oversight.
As Romney has said, this is where the fundamental difference between him and Obama lies.
"Unlike a president who thinks it's the government who helps the economy get back on its feet and prosper again," Romney said, "I know it is free people and freedom itself that form the driving force for our economy."
Election day on November 6 will show if Americans favor Obama's welfare state or Romney's model of a competitive society.