ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
In the past year, Mitt Romney poured more than $35 million of his own money into his presidential run. His hope was to rack up some early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, that big investment looks unlikely to pay off for him as NPR's Audie Cornish reports from Nashville.
AUDIE CORNISH: Mitt Romney's early strategy rested on a winning boost, first from Iowa and then New Hampshire, and to that end, he introduced himself to voters as a social conservative.
MITT ROMNEY: I came down to the side of life, every single instance as governor. I'm proud to be pro-life and I'm not apologizing for becoming pro-life.
CORNISH: But for some voters, something didn't ring true.
RON KLINE: I don't actually care for him too much. I'm not sure he's been consistent in what he says and what he did as governor of Massachusetts. He's not convincing to me as a human being.
CORNISH: That's Ron Kline speaking just before the Iowa caucuses. Kline ultimately ended up as one those who helped Mike Huckabee win in that early state.
Now here's Ron Schimansky(ph), an undecided voter from Silver Lake, Minnesota, who took in a Romney event this past weekend.
RON SCHIMANSKY: It's just a little bit of concern about, you know, his history as the governor of Massachusetts and, you know, I wanted to see that he's true to what he's, you know, telling us - his positions are to date.
CORNISH: Two different states, months apart, yet both had doubts about Mitt Romney.
On paper, Romney was seen as having a good chance to win the nomination, conservative, competent - having something the other Republican candidates did not - lots of money. But in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, Romney was unable to complete the deal.
LOU D: On the one hand, he alienated the moderate wing and he never really earned the conservative way.
CORNISH: That's Lou DiNatale, political analyst from the University of Massachusetts. DiNatale says Romney has always had a knack for adjusting his message on the fly. He notes Romney did best when he stuck to his image as economic stalwart and ultimate CEO as he did when he won in Michigan and Nevada.
NATALE: The key thing, I think, historically, to remember about Americans in how you are who you say you are and if you can say it with enough cash then that's generally what people think it is you are, and Romney has proved that on more than one occasion.
CORNISH: Romney dismisses any questions of his authenticity as the product of negative campaigning from his rivals.
(SOUNDBITE OF MITT ROMNEY TALKING TO PEOPLE)
CORNISH: At a national diner this morning, Romney saw an advantage in the state that no longer offered Fred Thompson as a favorite son. In these last days of campaigning, Romney's message is that he's a Washington outsider and the last best conservative option in the race.
ROMNEY: Do you want a nominee who helped right McCain candidate that gave amnesty to illegal aliens.
Unidentified Group: No
Unidentified Man: No way.
ROMNEY: Yeah. Do you want to have a nominee instead who represents conservative principles and will keep us inside the house, the Ronald Reagan bill?
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
CORNISH: That's music to the ears of Catherine Huddleston(ph), a former Thompson supporter who brought her own mock PowerPoint slide in an ode to her new favorite candidate.
CATHERINE HUDDLESTON: Sanity, you know, this is the first bullet because I do, seriously, think that he is the only reasonable candidate left in the race. He has shown grace under fire, and we need a voice of reason and sanity.
CORNISH: Huddleston and other voters in Super Tuesday states like Tennessee have been the focus of Romney's attention the last few days. The name of the game now is delegates, and he hopes to (unintelligible) enough to have a Super Tuesday of his own. But Romney says whatever happens tomorrow, he is expecting his battle for the nomination to continue.
Audie Cornish, NPR News, Nashville.
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