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Some Republicans fear perceptions of Romney will linger

January 16, 2015

CORONADO, California (AP) — Even among his longtime supporters, one fear stands out about Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate who is considering making another run for the White House. It’s the lingering perception that the former private equity executive cares only about the fate of wealthy Americans.

Romney easily won the Republican nomination in 2012, but his unsuccessful campaign against President Barack Obama was filled with high-profile missteps tied in some way to money. The son of an auto company chief executive who made a fortune in finance measured in the hundreds of millions famously described corporations as people and highlighted his close friendships with the owners of professional sports teams.

No gaffe was bigger than Romney’s remark — secretly recorded at a high-dollar fundraiser — that he doesn’t worry about 47 percent of Americans who “believe they are victims” and “pay no income tax.”

Romney is aware of this vulnerability. In his so-far private conversations about a prospective run for the White House in 2016, he has told would-be backers that improving the lives of poor and middle-class Americans would be at the top of his 2016 agenda.

“What he was most passionate about in our conversation is breaking the cycle of poverty in this country,” said Bill Kunkler, one of Romney’s past top national fundraisers, who received a call from Romney this week. “That really, really bothers him.”

No early favorite has emerged among the crowded field of potential Republican presidential candidates — in contrast to the Democratic side, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is an overwhelming front-runner.

At a Republican gathering this week, some in the party suggested Romney would not cruise to the party’s nomination in 2016 as he did in 2012.

“People are interested to see who else will emerge,” said Susan Hutchison, who now leads the Republican Party in Washington state and was an early Romney supporter in the last election. “We need someone with wide appeal to people of all walks of life and from all cultures that make up the tapestry that is America.”

There are concerns among Republicans that Romney is a two-time loser in the race for president — he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in 2008 — whose “turn” has come and gone. But in interviews with several Romney supporters, many pointed to what political professionals describe as his empathy problem. Among voters who wanted a president who “cares about people like me,” only 18 percent supported Romney in 2012, compared with 81 percent for Obama, according to exit polls.

As Romney prepares to speak Friday night at the meeting of the Republican National Committee — his first public appearance since word spread he was thinking about another run — former allies worry aloud that his image as an out-of-touch millionaire threatens to derail a return campaign engagement before it begins.

“I think this is a perception problem more than a reality problem, but I think somehow he has to convince caucus-goers and the rest of the American people that he does care about all segments of society,” said RNC member Steve Scheffler.

Aides to Romney say he has started to craft a 2016 platform focused on three priorities: making the world safer, helping the middle class and combating poverty. In particular, poverty has been a dominant theme as Romney continues daily phone calls to former supporters to gauge their interest in his making a run.

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