It was nearly a year ago when David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Mitt Romney "has no core." He was referring to the former Massachusetts governor's legendary flip-flops on issues like abortion and climate change. The charge was hardly an original one, as similar criticisms were voiced about Romney by Republicans when he ran for president in 2008.
Earlier this year in a GOP debate, Romney described himself as a "severe conservative," and has run most of this year as just that, rarely talking about how he worked with Democrats across the aisle in Massachusetts to get things accomplished, most significantly his health care reform plan later copied by the Obama administration on a federal level.
Romney's hardline stances have been detrimental to his chances with Latino voters, for example, but he's never shown much confidence in moving to the center, where presidential elections are generally won or lost.
But with Wednesday night's debate and his follow-up appearance in St. Petersburg Friday night, Romney now seems to be making that shift to the center that analysts predicted he would inevitably do — but is it too late?
Part of humanizing Mitt to his audiences is showing the 10-minute feature about Romney that was first shown at the Republican convention in Tampa, but not in prime time:
At Pier Park on Friday, Romney spent several minutes discussing three personal stories of people who had died, including a sick 14-year-old boy named David Oparowski, who was Romney's Mormon ward and who asked "Brother Romney" to help him write a "will" before he died, as McKay Coppins quoted him on Friday night in Buzzfeed:.
"I went to David’s bedside and got a piece of legal paper, made it look very official," Romney told the audience. "And then David proceeded to tell me what he wanted to give his friends. Talked about his fishing rod, and who would get that. He talked about his skateboard, who’d get that. And his rifle, that went to his brother."
By the time he was finished, Romney had done something he'd never achieved before from the stump: He had gotten people to cry.
But it was Romney's "performance" — and that's what Obama surrogate Robert Gibbs was calling it on Sunday morning — in last week's debate that made manifest his clear move to the center.
It was there that the GOP nominee said that “high-income people are doing just fine in this economy, said that "regulation is essential," and owned Romneycare, calling the health care plan with an individual mandate that he passed in Massachusetts "a model for the nation."
But it was Romney's claim that he cut taxes by $4.8 trillion without increasing the deficit or pushing tax increases on the middle class that has Democrats up in arms, essentially saying that's too much of a transition in one night.
On ABC's This Week, Robert Gibbs was emphatic that Romney is full of it, as he spoke to George Stephanopoulos.
GIBBS: If you're going to reduce the Bush tax rates by 20 percent, and the estate tax, and the AMT, change the corporate rate, and a whole host of other changes, that adds up to a reduction in revenue, $4.8 trillion. The question for Governor Romney is, what loopholes are you going to close? Supposedly, to make up for that revenue? And if you don't close $4.8 trillion in those loopholes, two things happen. Either the deficit goes up, or more likely, is the middle class is going to see their taxes go up and end up paying for his promises (ph).
STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you know, Robert, he's stating unequivocally that he will not push the tax cuts if they increase the deficit, and he will not push them if they force tax increases on the middle class.
GIBBS: Then he's got no economic theory. Then he's walked away from 18 months of what this whole campaign has been about. But George, we've seen this movie before, where people say, oh, don't worry, it's all going to get paid for, it's fine. When you ask them, what loopholes will you close specifically for wealthy earners to help pay for the $4.8 trillion in reduced revenue, there's no answer. I mean, let's be clear, Paul Ryan a week ago was asked about the math for this, and Paul Ryan said, look, the math takes too long. Well, Mitt Romney's solution is he just decided there wasn't math involved in this problem, and that's absolutely crazy. Look, the only thing he outlined that he would cut in the budget is Big Bird. He's taken the battle straight to Sesame Street, and let Wall Street run hogwild.
Again, it was a masterful theatrical performance. It was fundamentally dishonest for the American people. And let's be clear, if you're willing to say anything to get elected president, if you are willing to make up your positions and walk away from them, I think the American people have to understand, how can they trust you if you are elected president.
This is a big movement in this seemingly endless campaign.
Obama fans say their man blew the opportunity on Wednesday to call out Romney for his misstatements. But can Romney make the transition from a "severe" conservative to a compassionate one over the next month? If he can, chances are good that he'll be elected president.
But is it too late? The perception among a lot of folks not that tuned into the race is that Romney is simply not that appealing, a 1 percent guy in a 99 percent electorate. Romney has to do a lot to change that perception, but he's working on it now.