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Campaign secrets: Clint, Mitt’s debate prep and a ‘bromance’

Actor Clint Eastwood talks an empty chair during his address Republican National ConventiTampFla. Thursday Aug. 30 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott

Actor Clint Eastwood talks to an empty chair during his address to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Updated: January 5, 2013 6:26AM



CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate “was not a political choice”; his warm personal chemistry with Ryan made it more like a “bromance.”

A major mistake by President Barack Obama’s team was waiting too long to give fund-raising assistance to the main SuperPAC bolstering Obama’s re-election bid.

Those insights came during a conference on the 2012 presidential campaign hosted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, which included the key operatives from the Obama and Romney operations, Romney’s GOP primary challengers and strategists who ran SuperPACs.

The “Decision Makers Conference” took place last Wednesday and Thursday with the remarks embargoed until Monday.

Among the findings for the historic record:

♦ Right before Clint Eastwood spoke at the GOP convention — where he became the story of the night with his surprise talk to an empty chair — Romney strategist Russ Schreifer asked the actor if indeed he was going to deliver the same remarks he did twice before at fund-raisers. Schreifer said Eastwood “looked at me and said ‘yup.’ ”

♦ While the Obama team saw the selection of Ryan as a gift — turning the conversation from Obama’s record to Ryan’s proposals on Medicare and other social safety net programs — another Romney strategist, Stuart Stevens, said his selection did not reflect some changing theory about the race.

“It was not a political choice,” Stevens said. It was “never discussed as such.”

Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said as soon as Ryan and Romney started campaigning together, during his daily calls with Romney “it was like talking to your buddy who just met a girl and is giddy.” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said when he saw the chemistry of Ryan and Romney together, he thought, “it was like a bromance.”

♦ Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said one of his mistakes — and a chief regret — was waiting too long to prod Obama donors to contribute to the main SuperPAC helping the president. And given the Obama campaign’s initial reluctance to deal with SuperPACs, when they jumped in, it “looked like a flip flop.”

♦ Regarding that damaging video — where Romney, at a fund-raiser, said 47 percent of Americans were dependent on government — Rhoades said no one on his side “knew it existed.” Romney took the blame for what he said, Rhoades said.

Teddy Goff, Obama’s digital director, said there was a downside to the 47 percent tape for his troops: to the extent Obama backers thought the president was becoming a favorite, well, that was “not helpful to us at all.”

♦ Romney senior adviser Beth Myers said Romney started debate prep in June — with the first debate Oct. 3. “He wanted this to be the Manhattan Project” of the campaign, she said. In all, Romney held 16 mock debates.

♦ David Simas, Obama’s director of opinion research, said they were confident of the Obama lead in battleground states in part because they had massive samplings — 9,000 telephone interviews across 10 states most nights.

♦ Brian Baker, the president and general counsel for the Ending Spending Action Fund — bankrolled by Joe Ricketts, the father of Cubs executives Tom and Laura — said the SuperPAC never considered funding ads featuring the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Obamas’ former pastor — even through a consultant pitched them on the idea.

Baker said he did not pull the plug because the story leaked to the New York Times. Rather there was no plug to pull; the proposal “was never going to be greenlighted” because there was no “research” showing it would work — and there was a backfire potential that it would fire up Obama supporters.



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