BOSTON -- Mitt Romney staked his campaign on the economy, and the economy let him down.
For years, Romney promoted himself as a turnaround artist, a corporate expert with extensive executive experience who knew how to make systems work. He would point to his stewardship rescuing the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and his record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded, in helping companies succeed.
The Republican nominee tried hard to convince voters the economy should be doing better, that President Barack Obama lacked the knowhow to manage and improve it.
Obama looked vulnerable. Just one year ago, his approval rating had sunk to 41 percent, driven down by a sluggish economic recovery and a disillusioned, divided public.
But the numbers just were not bad enough to warrant replacing the president. The unemployment rate in October was 7.9 percent – a tick above the 7.8 percent the month Obama took office, but well below the 10 percent peak of October 2009. The economy grew at a 2 percent clip in the third quarter – not robust, but hardly a recession.
And consumer confidence, a key measure of voter sentiment, was up last month.
“He felt the economy was going to be enough. It really wasn’t,” Colorado-based political analyst Floyd Ciruli said of Romney.
The economy’s slow-but-steady improvement robbed Romney of his best argument for why people should vote against Obama, but he also failed to make a clear case for why people should choose him instead.
Romney was dogged throughout the campaign by charges he was too quick to change his views, too inauthentic. Conservatives distrusted him because of his moderate ways while governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 – and Wednesday, some took fresh aim.
“Out of last night’s disaster comes some good news – conservatives are saying ’Never again’ are we going to nominate a big government establishment Republican for president,” said veteran conservative strategist Richard Vigurie.
Moderates were wary because Romney seemed to shift sharply right during his presidential run.
As a result, "he was everybody’s second choice in the (Republican) primaries," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
On issue after issue, Romney’s views seemed to change to fit his political needs.
In January, when seeking the Republican nomination – and aiming to woo conservatives – he urged "self-deportation" for illegal immigrants. Six months later, the nomination now secure, Romney took no position on Obama’s new directive allowing many younger immigrants to stay in this country.
Two days before the first debate Oct. 3, Romney had another view. He told the Denver Post he would not overturn visas granted under Obama’s policy.
Romney’s demeanor didn’t help. “Romney just never really connected directly to people and touched them in a way that they thought he understood their concerns and their values,” said Republican political consultant David Carney.
Romney seemed stuck in the polls around 48 percent. So was Obama, but the president was a known quantity, and Romney was not. The more swing voters came to know him, the more they seemed unable to warm to him.
As a result, Romney could not make inroads into Obama’s coalition of Latino, African-American, women and younger voters. Romney won the white vote Tuesday by 20 percentage points, according to exit polls, but the electorate is changing and Romney couldn’t convince Obama’s most ardent blocs that they should send a stronger economic message.