"What was presented as discipline by the Romney campaign by staying on one message, the economy, was a strategic error," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List. She argued that Romney handed Obama a victory by failing to focus on a socially conservative agenda.
On the flip side, other party leaders are insisting his loss means the GOP needs to reject some of the harsh rhetoric Romney embraced on issues important to women and Hispanics. "The country is changing, and the people our party appeals to is a static group," said Republican strategist Mike Murphy.
Romney won the nomination over the course of years. While he formally ended his first presidential bid in 2008 after losing the nomination to John McCain, he went on to build a network of political support by turning immediately to raising money for candidates and officeholders in the states he would need to carry him to the 2012 nomination.
He formally launched his second presidential bid in June 2011. Many members of his senior staff were already living in Boston by that point, uprooting lives in Washington or New York to commit to Romney's campaign.
On Tuesday, that all ended. By the end, running mate Paul Ryan said Romney was "running on fumes."
As the returns rolled in and state after state was called for Obama, Romney tuned out entirely at times.
"At one point tonight, he just turned off the TV and just played with the grandkids," said longtime aide Eric Fehrnstrom, standing in the ballroom after Romney's concession speech.
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