Changing Their Stripes
Step right up, and watch the candidates re-create themselves
And McCain is no longer an unflaggingly upbeat campaigner. Instead, he often turns somber in conceding enormous challenges in Iraq and arguing for perseverance and sacrifice. "He's become a very bleak candidate," says Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. Voters generally prefer optimism-the outlook McCain projected in 2000.
Mitt Romney. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney knows well the perils of flip-flopping. His father, George Romney, a three-term governor of Michigan, was a Republican presidential hopeful in the 1968 cycle-before he ran into trouble for changing from Vietnam War supporter to critic. In August 1967, he told a television reporter that he first backed the war because he believed the military officials who briefed him on a tour of South Vietnam. "When I came back from Vietnam, I had just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get," Romney said with embarrassing candor. His image never recovered from the perception that he had been gulled.
Mitt Romney is having similar problems of consistency, drawing criticism for changing his views on abortion and gay rights in order to please conservatives-even for exaggerating his experience as a hunter. Says Democratic pollster Garin: "It's an interesting commentary on how much the Republicans feel they have to change to suit their base, and Romney is the poster child for chameleon politics in this cycle."
What makes things tougher for Romney and other candidates is how easy it's become for the mainstream media and the bloggers to find contrasts in a candidate's past and present positions, thanks to technological advances in archiving, the Internet, and YouTube.
Romney aides say that the former governor based his shifts on careful study of the issues to better match up with his personal convictions and that he isn't an opportunist. But his policy reverses seem to be one reason why Romney has remained mired under 10 percent support in the GOP opinion polls. Even the Doonesbury comic strip makes fun of his shifting views.
THE LEADING DEMOCRATS
Hillary Clinton. The former first lady has been trying to reintroduce herself to the public as a warmer, more engaging, less threatening personality than she seemed to be as first lady. "Once Americans really get to know her, they will like her," says a Clinton strategist. So the New York senator has been appearing in citizen forums and mingling happily with voters, to show her softer side.
Clinton has also been trying to demonstrate her commitment to national security, where Democrats have in the past come up short. For example, she has refused to repudiate her Senate vote authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, even though antiwar Democrats are angry with her for it. "Hillary has not really shifted that much on policy," says a Democratic strategist not affiliated with any campaign. She bills herself as a problem solver. "The caricature of Hillary that developed a long time ago was incorrect at the time and is certainly wrong today," says Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary for Bill Clinton. "She has been a moderate Democratic senator since she walked in, not a crazy liberal."