Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Don't expect Mitt Romney to spend a lot of time trying to get voters to like him this fall.
Instead, the likely Republican presidential nominee will probably rely on a ton of campaign cash and a barrage of nasty attack ads ripping into President Barack Obama for policies that Romney says aren't helping the economy recover fast enough. Look for Romney to take a more moderate tack, too.
That's essentially the playbook Romney followed in his last campaign against a Democrat, when he was elected Massachusetts governor in 2002.
Given how Romney has already relied heavily on key elements of that winning strategy — the biting attack ads, the imposing fundraising advantage — to pound his GOP presidential rivals, there's little to suggest he won't return to that strategy for the likely fight against Obama.
Ben Coes, Romney's campaign manager in 2002, said the multimillionaire businessman won the election because he didn't worry much about whether voters liked him. Coes said that same dynamic will apply for November's presidential election, too.
Then and now, "voters were electing someone to clean up a mess," said Coes, who has no role in Romney's current campaign. "He ran as the toughest guy with the most experience to go in there and clean up a mess. ... It's the reason he got elected in 2002, and it's how he could get elected in 2012."
Romney's campaign declined to comment.
Romney swept into the governorship with an aggressive campaign that played up his image as a political outsider, played down his GOP affiliation and pounded Democratic foe Shannon O'Brien as a hapless watchdog of the state's cash in a wave of attack ads. O'Brien was the state's first female treasurer and a tough, seasoned campaigner.
Buoyed by the national media attention he received for turning the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City into a success, Romney returned to Massachusetts and targeted O'Brien with a pledge to "clean up the mess on Beacon Hill."
He cast her as beholden to labor unions, lobbyists and special interests, but especially to Democrats who controlled the Legislature. Romney tapped into a deep vein of voter frustration over patronage, ethics scandals, state budget deficits, job losses and a $1 billion tax increase.
"We wanted to tie a noose around Beacon Hill and tie it around Shannon O'Brien's neck," Coes said.
Romney won by 5 percentage points in the Democratic-dominated state by appealing to independent voters. But his efforts to shed his image as stiff and blow-dried, which endures to this day, mostly fizzled.
He stumbled by airing a pithy TV ad in which he and his wife, Ann, spoke tenderly about their courtship on a high school prom date and their enduring love for each other. "Ann's just good to the core," Romney gushed. The ad also featured Romney in a bathing suit frolicking with his sons atop a raft on a lake.
"Women found it to be pandering, people in general just thought it was out of touch with their lives that are maybe not so perfect," O'Brien said.
Romney also tried to project a regular-guy image by staging "work days" at blue-collar jobs on garbage trucks and fishing boats, but those failed, too, coming off as overly scripted.
Rob Gray, a senior Romney strategist in 2002, conceded the "work days" and the ads showcasing Romney's marriage were "self-inflicted" wounds that preceded a slide in the polls.
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