Romney: Yes, my "couple of Cadillacs" and NASCAR comments have hurt me

For all his polish and purported “perfection,” Mitt Romney has sounded more than his fair share of “off” notes — most of them to do with his wealth. A few days ago, for example, he casually mentioned that his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs.” Yesterday, he earnestly commented that he rarely watches NASCAR himself, but he does have a couple of “great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”

As Michael Gerson writes in The Washington Post, Romney may yet be able to turn these out-of-touch moments into an advantage of sorts. Allahpundit also has a positive perspective on Romney’s “populist blind spots”: The candidate’s awkward efforts to connect with his would-be constituents can be almost endearing.

Romney himself, however, acknowledged at a press conference this morning that these unscripted, authentic declarations haven’t helped his presidential campaign.

When pressed by reporters, Romney acknowledged he had hurt his campaign with a series of comments in which he seemed to casually flaunt his wealth. Over the past several days, Romney mentioned his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs” and told an Associated Press reporter he has friends who are NASCAR team owners.

A reporter asked if these remarks had hurt him.

“Yes,” Romney said. “Next question.”

It’s not the first time Romney has admitted his rhetorical mistakes. Alongside his damaging comments, he’s also said “I can’t be perfect” and “I am who I am.” In a way, his mistakes and subsequent expressions of self-acceptance humanize him — but whether that will make a difference for him electorally speaking remains to be seen.

As Political Ticker points out, the subdued tone of today’s conference was a turnaround from Romney’s final Michigan rally last night, at which he confidently declared he was going to win Michigan — and the rest of the country.

Romney’s quiet attitude this morning might have stemmed as much from the negative turn the primaries have taken as from any error he himself has made, though. Specifically, Romney was stirred up this morning at efforts to turn out Democrats to vote against him. A Democratic strategist started the trend, but Rick Santorum’s campaign has followed suit. A Santorum robocall to Democrats encourages members of the opposition party to go to the polls to vote against Romney.

This isn’t a “dirty trick of a desperate campaign,” as Romney characterized it. It’s actually pretty standard — but it’s still easy to see why Romney would be discouraged by it this morning. This quote captures it:

“I think the hardest thing about predicting what’s going to happen today is whether Senator Santorum’s effort to call Democrat households and tell them to come out and vote against Mitt Romney is going to be successful or not,” Romney told reporters at his campaign headquarters in Livonia during his first press conference in almost three weeks. “I think Republicans have to recognize there’s a real effort to kidnap our primary process.”

It is discouraging to think of all the factors that could influence the outcome of tonight’s primaries — factors that might or might not be present in the general. It’s difficult to gauge the enthusiasm of the base or the viability of a candidate in an open primary.

Whatever happens tonight, the primary process is far from over — and both the frontrunners have plenty of time to spout thoughtless comments or to turn around the mistakes they’ve made.

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