In 2002, Mitt Romney used debates to make a comeback

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The Boston Globe‘s Matt Viser explains how Mitt Romney turned a six-point deficit into a five-point win in the final few months of his 2002 gubernatorial race:

[Romney] would drop the gentlemanly role he had assumed, one that prompted some voters to see him as a smug, programmed front-runner. The campaign would drop the feel-good, family-focused ads in favor of sharper, more combative ones criticizing [opponent Shannon] O’Brien’s management of the state treasury. Romney would start delivering attack lines himself, rather than leaving the dirty work to surrogates.

“We knew we needed to use debates and other methods to get our message out in a crystal-clear way,” said Mike Murphy, who was one of Romney’s chief strategists. “We needed to turn the boat a little bit, so to speak. Mitt was totally on board and we hit our stride.”

Within weeks, the polls began to shift.

Voters responded to Romney’s negative ads, the most memorable of which portrayed O’Brien as a hapless, sleeping basset hound instead of a watchdog on Beacon Hill. The ad — humorous, yet cutting — is still talked about by political observers in Massachusetts.

To try to get voters to connect with him, Romney spent time working several types of jobs during what the campaign called “work days.” He worked as a garbage man on Beacon Hill, sold sausages at Fenway Park, and fixed cars. They were all thinly veiled photo ops designed to convince people that his wealth wasn’t an issue, but those who helped run his campaign say such images had an impact.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.