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Focusing on the issues will help Romney win

Mitt Romney his wife Ann Wolfeboro N.H. where he worked his speech Monday for Republican National Convention.  |

Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, in Wolfeboro, N.H., where he worked on his speech Monday for the Republican National Convention. | Jewel Samad~AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: September 29, 2012 6:06AM

The presidential campaign, at the start of the Republican National Convention, seemed to boil down to this: President Barack Obama is the candidate with a high likability rating while Mitt Romney is seen as the better man for handling the economy. In other words, who would you rather have for president the next four years, the affable guy who can trade jokes with you in the unemployment line or the stiff character who would actually put you back to work?

The flip side of the conventional wisdom about Obama’s likability edge is that Romney has to use the convention in Tampa to “reintroduce” and “redefine” himself. Romney needs a softer, more huggable version of himself, this line of thinking goes, because unless independent voters come to like him more, they’ll stick with nice guy Obama and hope against hope that his policies that have failed for nearly four years to invigorate the economy will somehow, some way finally bring a new morning of prosperity.

Oh well, we should never underestimate the power of hope to triumph over reality.

And of course, how a politician relates to voters is important. Bill Clinton famously could feel your pain. Cheerful George W. Bush was the fellow you’d rather have a beer with than the dour John Kerry. John F. Kennedy’s charisma enchanted voters. Ronald Reagan projected an infectious sunny optimism. Yet, nice guys don’t always finish first. Happy warrior Hubert Humphrey was no match for gloomy Richard Nixon.

Still, it’s hard to argue that Romney doesn’t need to boost his personal favorables a bit. That’s true because he has endured more than half a year of savage attacks. First came the bitter GOP presidential primary in which his opponents portrayed him as a vulture capitalist and a Massachusetts moderate. Democrats would adopt the former but forget the latter.

Once the former Massachusetts governor locked up the nomination, the Obama campaign and the president’s surrogates launched an ugly and dishonest — even by the low standards of American politics — propaganda blitz to try to smear Romney. They called him a tax cheat, suggested he was guilty of a felony in document filings about the Bain Capital company he started and insinuated that Romney was responsible for the cancer death of the wife of a steel worker laid off by a plant Bain was trying to save years after Romney had left Bain.

And Obama is supposed to be the nice guy in this race! Time for a reality check.

The good news for Romney is that despite barrage after barrage of false and misleading attacks and diversions, he remains essentially tied in national polling.

So by all means let Romney, his wife Ann and others showcase his family, faith and good works in charity and personal life. And highlight his record of success in business — everyone has heard of Staples, the firm Bain helped start — and in public life — his rescue of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics from scandal and financial ruin.

As Republicans and Romney cast for ways to tell his personal story, they should keep the focus on his tax reform and energy proposals that hold the promise of reviving the economy. Obama may have a likability edge, but he has no new ideas, only a record of failure.

That’s the real choice in this election — between Romney’s success and job-creating ideas for the future and Obama’s failure and more of the same failed policies.

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