BOSTON (AP) - As Mitt Romney transitions from one-term governor
to presidential candidate, he has been ticking through a
presidential checklist, sometimes with perilous results.
Where he lacked foreign policy experience, his staff arranged
one-day visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Check, check, check.
Where there were questions about Second Amendment issues, he
enrolled as a "lifetime" member of the National Rifle
But this month, Romney scratched when he tried to wade through
the cauldron of Cuban-American politics during a speech to South
"Hugo Chavez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase - 'Patria o
muerte, venceremos."' Romney said, referring to the Venezuelan
president and persistent U.S. critic. "It does not belong to him.
It belongs to a free Cuba."
In truth, the phrase does not belong to free Cubans. It has been
the trademark speechmaking sign-off of their most despised
opponent, Fidel Castro. And unlike Romney, Castro would switch to
English to declare, "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome."
The mistake pointed up Romney's newness to the scene and the
freshness of some of his positions.
"No human being can ever know every nuance to every issue. And
the steeper the learning curve, the more likely you are to see
inadvertent errors," said Dan Schnur, a Republican communications
consultant in California. He worked for Pete Wilson's 1996
presidential campaign and Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential
campaign, but is not involved in the 2008 race.
"I've never seen one of these things take down a campaign, but
it's critical for the candidate to show these type of things are an
aberration, not a rule," Schnur said.
Unlike some of his better-known Democratic and Republican
rivals, Romney, 60, lacks extensive national and international
political experience. Romney has made a series of foreign and
domestic policy pronouncements as he rushes to close gaps in his
On the plus side, Romney's mostly nonpolitical background -
primarily as a venture capitalist, as well as head of the 2002
Winter Olympics - means he does not have a long history on many
contentious issues. That gives him great leeway as he adopts his
At the same time, it puts him at a disadvantage with more
experienced rivals, for whom many contemporary issues are second
That lack of depth and familiarity increases the chance of
missteps, as well as outright contradictions with past policy
In Romney's case, critics have lambasted him for reversals on
abortion rights, gay rights and tax policy.
His Chavez comment to a March 9 Lincoln Day dinner in Miami-Dade
County, as well as his mispronunciation of the names of several
prominent Cuban-Americans, set off a murmur within the crowd.
Kevin Madden, Romney's spokesman, said the speech was
overwhelmingly well-received despite any mistakes.
"I think what's new is there is a higher level of scrutiny now
because he's a presidential candidate," Madden said. "But as far
as the governor's ideas, the substance of his proposals and his
blueprint for America, this is the first time everybody is hearing
it, and we are confident that the substance of his policies is
what's going to bring more and more people to his campaign."
Recent campaigns are littered with examples of similar gaffes.
In 2004, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic
presidential nominee, found himself backpedaling after he stopped
in Wisconsin and declared his affection for "Lambert" Field. The
proper name for the home of the state's beloved Green Bay Packers
is "Lambeau" Field.
McCain took an unusual step as he proceeded through his own
position checklist amid the 2000 GOP primary campaign.
After repeatedly flubbing when asked whether it was appropriate
for South Carolina to fly the Confederate flag over its Capitol,
McCain pulled out a statement written by his staff and read it
For the record, McCain declared that he saw the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage, not slavery. Yet after he lost the nomination
to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush, McCain flew back to South
Carolina and apologized.