Mitt Romney is spending this weekend tucked away with Republican donors and campaign supporters at the Chateaux, an upmarket retreat in the Utah ski resort of Park City.
The event is designed to reward wealthy supporters with a chance to mingle with the candidate in a relaxed, informal environment.
But Team Romney should be anything but relaxed after a difficult week. His famously disciplined staff, who pride themselves on being watertight, have had to contend with several leaks, not least the schedule, attendance list and menu – lasagne – of the Utah retreat.
The Republican presidential nominee has been wrongfooted by Barack Obama on immigration, and opinion polls have shown the Democrat stubbornly maintaining his overall lead, particularly in terms of favourability.
Brad Coker, managing director of Florida-based Mason-Dixon polling, acknowledged it had not been one of Romney’s better weeks, but it had not been great for Obama either, he said, with the row over attorney-general Eric Holder and worrying new statistics about the economy.
“In a long campaign, one bad week is not going to make much difference in the end. It is a matter of getting everyone in line and moving forward,” Coker said.
He added that leaks about the weekend schedule in Utah and about Florida governor Rick Scott were the kind of stories that would slide passed most of voters and in the end, as it has always destined to be, the election will be decided by the economy.
During the 2007-08 Republican primary contest, and again earlier this year, Romney earned a reputation for fighting extremely cautious and safe campaigns. Unlike, say, the John McCain camp in 2008, there have been almost no damaging leaks.
It was not all bad news for Romney this week. New figures on fundraising showed that he and his affiliated Super Pacs outperforming Obama and the Democrats.
Romney’s worst days this year came when the Washington Post in May disclosed details about his alleged bullying of a school colleague thought to be gay. Romney denied any memory of the incident but apologised anyway.
That hurt Romney, but it was an isolated event. What is different this week is the accumulation of events. It began last Friday with Obama’s surprise change in immigration policy to stop deporting young undocumented migrants who came to the US as children and start giving them work permits.
Romney gave a poor interview on Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, when he failed to say whether he would repeal Obama’s move. Then came his failure to spell out in detail what he would do on immigration reform when he addressed a Latino conference on Thursday where he received a tepid reception. On top of all this, new details emerged about the outsourcing of jobs while he was helping to run Bain Capital.
But what hurt him most were the leaks. The first, to ABC News, was that Florida senator Marco Rubio was not even on the shortlist for consideration as a vice-presidential running-mate. The report forced Romney, who normally refuses to comment on the VP vetting process, to announce Rubio was being vetted after all. That in turn started speculation that Romney had come under pressure from Rubio’s many supporters, from former governor Jeb Bush to the Tea Party.
Soon after that came a Bloomberg report that Romney’s campaign team had put pressure on Florida governor Rick Scott not to be so enthusiastic about improving job figures, saying this was helping Obama.
That is probably the leak that could continue to dog Romney in the months to come. Democrats will be closely watching the response of Republican governors to see how they react to job figures and any perceived lack of a positive reaction to improvements will be pounced on. The move smacks of political cynicism, putting electoral calculation ahead of the economy.
Two leaks in one week for the Romney campaign is unusual, but then there was a third one, with the details of the Utah session, billed as ‘The First National Romney Victory Retreat’. Republicans were invited to attend and mix with GOP luminaries – provided they stump up $150,000 per couple.
Among political celebrities slated to attend are former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former Bush strategy adviser Karl Rove. The sessions include Israel, healthcare and finance. There is also a ‘victory tea party’ with Ann Romney.
Others scheduled to attend are former secretary of state James Baker, former senator Norm Coleman, senator John McCain, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, and figures such as senator Rob Portman and former governor Tim Pawlenty, both of who have been mentioned as possible running mates for Romney.
This sudden spate of leaks may simply reflect the broadening of the campaign. It is easier to prevent leaks with a small team, but harder as it expands. The Scott leak is more likely to have come from the governor’s office rather than Romney’s team. Any number of people invited to the Utah event could have leaked the details.
Of the three leaks, the one that hints of internal political dissension in Republican ranks is Rubio’s. There is no advantage for Romney in leaking the information, but every reason for Rubio’s supporters, alarmed that he had not been asked to fill in the lengthy questionnaire required by all potential vice-presidential candidates.
Such was the potency of the leak that Romney publicly announced that Rubio was on the list, a remarkable admission for any presidential candidate, who generally maintain that the process should be kept secret.
Coker played down the events. On the pressure on Scott, Coker said that neither Scott nor any other Republican governors in swing states faced re-election battles this year and could easily acquiesce in Romney’s request to zip it.
On Romney’s problem with Latinos, Coker felt the Latino impact on elections was overblown. He had been conducting polls in Florida for 30 years and never seen Latinos determine the outcome of an election yet. A common mistake, he said, was to confuse the fast-growing Latino population figures with voter turnout: the number of registered Latino voters are relatively small.
Nevertheless, the polls stubbornly refuse to tip in Romney’s favour. A Bloomberg poll showed Obama leading 53% to 40% among likely voters, even though those surveyed were critical of the president’s handling of the economy.
A Pew Research Centre poll, conducted between June 7 and 17 of 2,013 voters, found Obama with 50% to Romney’s 46%. “It is notable that in eight general election match-ups since last October, Romney has never led Obama,” Pew director Andrew Kohut said.
Echoing Brad Coker, Professor Ross Baker, who specialises in politics at Rutgers University, believes it is too early in the election cycle and voters are yet to engage. Baker did not think the events of the last week involving the Romney campaign team will have much long-term impact.
“Americans, at least those with jobs and not underwater on their mortgages, are planning vacations and won’t come out of the summertime haze until after Labor Day. Barring a declaration of war, an outbreak of plague or the unlikely revelation of a presidential mistress, this is going over everyone’s head,” Baker said.