Mitt Romney will talk about his time as a Mormon bishop at the Republican convention this week when he accepts the party’s presidential nomination, as he works to persuade voters he is sympathetic to average Americans’ concerns.
Romney “insisted” on mentioning his experience pastoring to his congregation in Massachusetts -- a subject that will also be addressed by other convention speakers -- during his speech scheduled for Thursday night, top adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said at a Bloomberg Breakfast today in Tampa, Florida.
The subject will round out Romney’s biography with a little-discussed element of his life that he and his advisers believe shows the former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive “does have an appreciation for the hardships that are faced by ordinary Americans,” Fehrnstrom said.
Romney served from 1981 to 1986 as a bishop in the Belmont, Massachusetts, congregation of the lay-led Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He was responsible for guiding services and classes as well as counseling participants.
While he delivered a speech about his Mormon faith in 2007 during his first presidential run and refers often to its significance in his life, Romney has talked little about his work ministering to troubled congregants during this campaign.
Doing so now is one way for the campaign to capitalize on the attention they expect to receive from voters over the next three days at a critical time in the contest. In addition to touting Romney’s plan for rejuvenating the economy, the convention will also spotlight Romney’s family -- his five sons are in Tampa and his wife Ann is to address the convention tomorrow night -- as well as his experience as an executive at Bain Capital LLC, his Massachusetts record, and his work heading the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The campaign wants to appeal to “voters who are really just starting to lock in on this campaign and this election,” said Ed Gillespie, another top adviser, and “who are starting to watch with greater interest.”
“We think that the more people learn about the Romney-Ryan plan to get the country moving again, the more they learn about Mitt Romney’s record and experience, and learn more about him as an individual, we think those could be three good takeaways,” he added.
With Tropical Storm Isaac threatening the Gulf Coast -- already prompting party officials to scrap most of today’s planned convention events -- Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, said the remaining three days of the gathering are still scheduled to go ahead.
Prepared to Change
“We are always watching, and we are prepared to make changes if we need changes,” he said.
Romney’s advisers have said they expect a substantial boost in popular support to follow the convention, and they argued today that it would position him well going into the next crucial phase of the campaign.
“Americans are going through an education process, and they’re just now leaving the evaluation stage of the campaign; over the next two months, they’ll be entering the decision making phase,” Fehrnstrom said.
With upcoming monthly jobs reports presenting three more opportunities for Americans to see the economy “losing steam,” he said, “you’re going to see those undecided -- I know they’re not a great pool or a big number -- but you’re going to start seeing those people break for Mitt Romney because he represents change from the status quo.”
Fehrnstrom also said upcoming presidential debates in October would be “incredibly significant in terms of laying out the differences between” Romney and President Barack Obama.
Even as his campaign sought to clarify the contrast, Romney’s aides said he would seek consensus with Democrats if he won the race. “He would be willing to cooperate and compromise with the Democrats and Republicans,” Fehrnstrom said.
Romney’s advisers also asserted they are well-positioned to challenge Obama in key states.
Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director, said the campaign is devoting resources only to states Obama won in 2008, and this summer saw some -- including Iowa and Wisconsin -- “come more into play” for Romney. Wisconsin is the home state of U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice presidential running mate.
“We are on offense on every state,” Beeson said. While he acknowledged an uphill effort for Romney in Pennsylvania -- a state that he said “has got to move” -- Beeson said Romney’s message of creating more jobs and boosting take-home pay would appeal to the working-class Democrats and swing voters he needs to win there and in Michigan.
Fehrnstrom was asked about Romney’s recent joke while campaigning in Michigan that he had never had to show his birth certificate -- seen by some as a subtle reference to “birther” controversy over Obama’s legitimacy for the U.S. presidency. He said the Republican had not meant it as an insult.
“He was caught up in the excitement of the moment, of being home,” Fehrnstrom said. “It was not meant to be a slight to the president. In fact, Mitt Romney has said numerous times that he believes Barack Obama was legally born in the United States, so that’s not an issue.”