Romney's presumed front-runner status kept him from straying into the quicksands that have slowed some of his rivals in recent months. Romney didn't need to yell and scream on Libya because he was already in the conversation. Donald Trump? Not Mitt Romney's business. Last month's debate in South Carolina featuring mostly minor candidates offered no enticement.
"If you had told me six months ago that he would be the sole, conventional-wisdom frontrunner at this point, I would've been sort of surprised," said one Romney adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity to offer candid analysis. "I think the biggest thing he's done right is hold off on engaging in the fisticuffs."
Now, with his campaign announcement sited on the farm of Doug Scamman, a former speaker of the New Hampshire House, in the state Romney vitally needs to win, some of that political aloofness will fall away as Romney plunges into the messy GOP fray.
Michigan, where Romney's father, George, was governor from 1963 to 1969, was the venue for his February 2007 launch at Dearborn's Henry Ford Museum. Today's rollout, on a Granite State farm, will be a decidedly more stripped-down and less expensive affair. Romney attended last year's annual chili cookout, said senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, describing the Scammans as "salt-of-the-Earth Republicans."
"It's bucolic, it's typical New Hampshire," Fehrnstrom said.
Romney advisers acknowledge that he has three primary areas that could open him to weakness: his signature on a 2006 Massachusetts health care reform law with an insurance-coverage mandate, his reputation for altering stances on issues from gay rights to his hunting credentials, and his Mormonism, a faith that bothers particularly conservative evangelical voters.
His work to minimize all three has met with some success. Last month's University of Michigan speech failed to pacify hardcore Romney critics because he did not grovel and denounce the 2006 law, but spared him from the flip-flop police constantly tailing his campaign.
Romney's argument will pivot on his economic capabilities, the work he did as CEO of Bain & Company, then his leadership of the Bain Capital private-equity investment group. He'll talk about patching holes in the Massachusetts budget, and the time he's spent since the 2008 election backing fiscally conservative candidates across the country through his Free and Strong America PAC.
It's a pitch that Romney's camp says is uniquely suited to the times.
"The 2012 presidential election is going to be a referendum on Barack Obama and his handling of the economy," Fehrnstrom said. "There is growing recognition that Mitt Romney is the strongest candidate from either party when it comes to job creation and stimulating the economy. That's because of the successful career he had as a private businessman."