But can likability or affinity be separated from issues and effectiveness? That is becoming one of the principal questions of this campaign.
The question is sometimes posed as if managing the economy, on which Romney scores better, is different from the personal qualities that Obama scores better on. Some Republicans argue that Obama's personal ratings are all that keep him afloat amid the economic wreckage.
But that misses the point, says one Democratic consultant. Those personal qualities may actually be a way some voters connect politics to their economic facts of life.
"If you are part of the working class and you believe that the deck has been stacked against people like you for a decade or so," this consultant said, "who is likely to be the more 'desirable' remedy for that — the financial CEO who 'understands' the economy or the guy you think is fighting for people like you?"
Which is why fighting for you is an Obama campaign mantra.
IN TRYING to overcome this, Romney is banging into a pretty deep vein of American political feeling. Ever since Andrew Jackson let his supporters traipse mud through the White House, there has been a resistance to letting the patricians back in power.
It took a huge economic crisis for Americans to elect the Hudson valley gentryman, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Herbert Hoover in fact was a good man, just a failed president, which is exactly what Romney is trying to say about Obama.
Romney's team has been planning to use the convention to highlight Obama's failure, as they see it, without denying the president's likability — and their own candidate's competence, as they see it, while acknowledging the need to humanize him.
This highlights the risk they have taken by waiting until so late in the campaign to try to personalize the candidate. Because Hurricane Isaac has intervened, in more ways than one.
On the obvious level, it has disrupted and overshadowed the convention so far. It has created a conversation about the last Republican administration's handling of a natural disaster when Romney would like to talk about the present Democratic administration's handling of the economy.
But as if to confirm that he is what he is (to channel Popeye again), the hurricane has created the kind of test for Romney that campaigns so often throw at candidates, a sudden change of terrain when the campaign was in the middle of doing something else.
These moments can be opportunities. What better chance to project empathy and connection than a looming threat to life and property? And Romney, Ann at his side, seemed to start out that way. The couple's thoughts, he said, were with the people in the storm's path, and he expressed hope that "they're spared any major destruction."
A more empathic politician might have left it at that, as his running mate, Paul Ryan, did. But Romney kept going, effusive about the convention and how it would go on despite the storm.
"I like my speech. I really like Ann's speech," he said. "Our sons are already in Tampa, and they say it's terrific there — a lot of great friends. And we're looking forward to a great convention."
Which, if his ear for connecting with people is as tin as it seems to be there, might be somewhat less likely than he hopes.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Michael Oreskes is senior managing editor for U.S. news at The Associated Press. Reach him at moreskes(at)ap.org.
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