On Thursday, New York Times campaign reporters Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker filed a relatively positive story on the suddenly resurgent Romney campaign: "Romney Campaign Looks to Capitalize on Image Voters Saw in Debate."
Inside Mitt Romney’s campaign headquarters over the past few days, the data pouring in was unmistakable. Aides scouring the results of focus groups and national polls found that undecided voters watching the presidential debate in Denver seemed startled when the Republican candidate portrayed all year by Democrats -- the ultraconservative, unfeeling capitalist -- did not materialize.
But the Times also helped contribute to that image, including this hit on Romney in a February 2 story by Parker herself: "Unlike President George W. Bush’s malapropisms, which generally served as late-night punch lines, Mr. Romney’s foot-in-mouth comments have an economic undertone, which have gained traction because they perpetuate his critics’ attacks that he is an unfeeling corporate titan."
The paper's usual labeling overload was present and accounted for, with eight instances of the "conservative" label (not including the "ultraconservative" crack or Romney's own "severely conservative" self-description).
The voters, they discovered, consistently reserved their highest marks for moments when Mr. Romney sounded bipartisan and moderate, two themes he has long played down on the campaign trail but seemed to take pains to showcase this week with centrist-sounding statements on taxes, abortion and immigration.
But the appearance at this late stage of a modulating Mitt Romney risks reopening a long-running debate about his authenticity, given that he has described himself as “severely conservative,” dismissed 47 percent of voters as government dependent, and picked a bold conservative as his running mate.
Behind the new efforts by the Romney campaign to soften his conservative edges and showcase his personal story was a realization by his political team -- borne out by reactions to his performance at the debate -- that with the economy showing improvement their best shot at victory is to aggressively defy the negative perceptions that have dogged him throughout the race