A father recounts the story of how his fourteen year-old daughter disappeared in New York City for three days. He then describes how his business partner closed the company and brought almost all of the employees to New York to set up a command center and search through the night. The father chokes up when he remembers how his business partner said, “I don’t care how long it takes we’re going to find her.” The girl was found and the 30-second ad spot concludes with the father stating that the man who saved his daughter was Mitt Romney.
The missing girl ad is a remarkable ad, not because of the story but because of the shift in strategy by the Romney campaign. Stories that pull at the heartstrings are commonplace in political ad narratives. However, the positive and personal tone of the ad is exceptional in relation to the consistently negative and depersonalized tone Romney has struck thus far.
Through the end of February Restore our Future, a Pro-Romney PAC, spent over $16 million dollars on advertising, 100 percent of it negative. Even the majority of the campaign’s own ad spending has been negative first focusing on Gingrich and now on Santorum. Romney’s strategy has been to tear down those around him without giving people reasons to like him. He has failed to build an image of Mitt Romney the man. His campaign has a well-developed narrative of him as CEO and Governor, but stops short of humanizing him.
What has been so puzzling about Romney not incorporating his personal life into the campaign is that he has a picture perfect narrative. He has been married to the same woman for 40 years, has a close-knit family, tithes, and above that gives to other charitable organizations. Objectively he’s a Boy Scout and compared to Gingrich and Santorum he’s a saint. But as my Mexican grandmother would say, santo que no es visto no es querido (a saint that isn’t seen isn’t loved.)
Voters care about issues and experience but they also care about a leader’s personality. People want to vote for someone they like, for someone they could see themselves having a beer with. And the fact that Romney is a millionaire that doesn’t drink isn’t the issue. George W. Bush didn’t drink and was just as wealthy as Romney, but people still wanted to have a beer with him. What matters is the perception of approachability. Voters want to cast their ballot for someone who they actually like, for someone who would drop everything and help his friend find his daughter.
The missing girl ad was created for Romney’s 2008 presidential run. It was dusted off for Super Tuesday and marks a change in tone from the previous negative ads sponsored by Restore our Future. If just a portion of the Romney ad barrage and general messaging turned to the candidate’s softer side he could pull ahead decisively. However, disclosing more of Romney’s personal side also means further highlighting his Mormonism. This is a gamble his campaign will have to take if he is to cement the GOP voters that are not anti-Mormon but also not sold on a capable yet robotic Romney.