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Can Mitt Romney make boring sexy?

News Analysis

(CBS News) Mitt Romney isn't cool. You probably don't need much evidence to back up that point, but here are a few exhibits: Romney singing "America the Beautiful." Romney posing for a photograph with money spilling out of his suit. A 23-year-old Romney, looking and sounding like Opie Taylor, speaking earnestly about his mom's Senate run.

President Obama, even his detractors admit, is cool. He can talk knowledgeably about college basketball, chat it up with the ladies of "The View" and "slow jam the news" with Jimmy Fallon. The coolness gap is reflected in the polls: Americans see Mr. Obama as more likeable and more relatable than his almost-certain general election challenger.

In 2008, John McCain's campaign tried to use Mr. Obama's coolness to portray him as a lightweight celebrity who lacked the gravitas for the presidency. The criticism didn't really take hold, however, in part because McCain fumbled the response to the economic crisis, while Mr. Obama did not.

But that doesn't mean attacks on Mr. Obama's coolness - which have already started to emerge- won't work this time around, particularly if Romney can turn his uncoolness into an asset. The argument goes something like this: President Obama has spent the past four years acting cool while failing to fix the economy. I'll spend the next four doing the unsexy work of bringing sober, steady guidance that guarantees you'll be better off by the time my term is up. If you're an American struggling to provide for yourself and your family, odds are the latter option is a lot more compelling.

One of the knocks on Ohio Sen. Rob Portman as a running mate for Romney is that he is too boring - "Vice President Vanilla," as Politico put it. But in selecting Portman, Romney would further this notion that his administration would bring to the table the sort of boring competence that he contends has been sorely lacking under Mr. Obama. That's part of the reason that despite the buzz, Romney is unlikely to tap Florida Sen. Marco Rubio - who is young, untested, and lacks executive experience - for the #2 slot. McCain udercut his chief argument against Mr. Obama - that he fundamentally wasn't up to the job - in selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate; Romney is unlikely to make the same mistake with Rubio, whom CBS News political director John Dickerson compares to Palin.

The problem with all this, of course, is that people tend to like cool guys. And that can translate into votes, particularly if a candidate can make the case that there's substance behind the swagger. Mr. Obama can point to the killing of Osama bin Laden, among other accomplishments, to argue that he is a whole lot more than a simple celebrity. But particularly if the economy takes a turn for the worse, Americans might decide that the time has come to embrace the sort of boring competence that Romney appears determined to project.


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