Politicos opine on whether Mitt Romney's overseas gaffes will hurt campaign

Published: Friday, Aug. 3 2012 4:09 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann arrive in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, July 28, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Britons took offense. Palestinians accused him of racism. And even in friendlier Poland, Mitt Romney's position on labor unions drew criticism from current leaders of the movement that overthrew communism.

By most accounts, the gaffe-filled foreign tour didn't do much to enhance the Republican presidential nominee's image nationally or internationally.

In a weekly poll of local political insiders, Utah Policy and KSL asked how much of an effect Romney's "well-documented missteps" will have on his presidential campaign. Respondents include current and past Republican and Democratic elected officials, government officials and lobbyists.

Utah Policy also asked whom Romney will pick as his running mate.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman topped the list among both Republicans and Democrats. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finished second among the GOP, while former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was second among Democrats.

Naturally, Republicans and Democrats viewed Romney's overseas trip through partisan eyes.

While GOP insiders don't think it will hurt a lot, nearly a third — 31 percent — think it will hurt a little. Another 41 percent said there won't be much of an impact. And 26 percent don't think voters are paying attention anyway.

Meantime, 20 percent of Democrats say it will hurt a lot, while 48 percent say it will hurt a little. And 22 percent think it won't have much of an effect on Romney's campaign.

"In Utah, it will have no effect. Nationally, it won't have a negative impact, but it probably didn't give him the positive (publicity) it could have," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics and a Romney adviser.

Jowers said it was "sadly amusing" to watch how media outlets characterized the trip. Some called it a tremendous success, others focused on perceived gaffes and a few described it as a mixed bag, he said.

Several Utah Policy insiders provided written comments along with their responses to the poll questions. Their party affiliations aren't identified, but might be obvious from their words.

• "You mean the 'well-documented missteps' invented by a press corps still in the tank for Obama it can't report straight news? Pu-leeze!"

• "He will be forever branded as a knucklehead. Even Bambi's friend Thumper knows, 'If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all.'"

• "They weren't gaffes. He told the truth. London had the problems he mentioned and there are cultural differences between the Israelis and Palestinians. Just because some don't like the truth, doesn't change reality."

• "If Bush lasted eight years with all his gaffes and missteps, I doubt if the Republicans who dislike Obama will care that Mitt Romney is not adept at foreign relations. I hope he continues to do as poorly during the debates, however!"

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis doesn't see it as big deal in Utah. Football fans, he said, don't change teams because of a few fumbles or interceptions.

"I actually don't think it's going to have much of an effect. Mitt Romney is the hometown boy," he said. "He's part of the tribe. He's given a lot of latitude."

Dabakis' GOP counterpart, Thomas Wright, said voters are more interested in talking about the nation's economy than anything going on in Poland.

"I don't think people are paying much attention to a presidential trip overseas," he said. "I don't think anything huge happened. I think some of his comments were taken out of context."

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