STERLING, Va. — Mitt Romney addressed a warehouse full of voters Wednesday in the D.C. suburb of Sterling, a place Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) called the “reddest county in Virginia” as he introduced the former Massachusetts governor.
Tom Jones, a self-described conservative from nearby Haymarket, watched most of the speech Wednesday before walking out. Jones, a middle-aged man wearing pleated khakis and a salmon-colored polo shirt, said he hopes Romney gets better at being the Republican standard-bearer.
Romney, Jones said, needs to be tougher on Obama. And he needs to be more positive. Jones is a tough man to please.
Most of the general election coverage so far has been focused on how Romney has coalesced the right and emerged as a candidate far stronger than Democrats expected. But in this one-man conservative focus group in Sterling, Romney’s not there yet.
Jones was a Santorum supporter in the primaries, and he stood near the back of the Romney event at EIT, LCC, a small electronics manufacturing firm near Dulles airport.
Romney’s got Jones’s vote, but he doesn’t yet have his respect as a candidate.
“I think he could be a little bit firmer on the things that Obama says that are pretty much not accurate. ‘This is the way it is, not that way,’” Jones said before the speech started. “I want him to be firmer on what he believes.”
The advice might be hard for Team Romney to follow. Jones said he “hates the negative stuff,” but also said he wants the GOP nominee to be quicker with calling out Obama’s lies. The underlying theme of Jones’ critique: Romney needs to focus more on what he’d do, and less on what Obama hasn’t done.
About two-thirds of the way through the stump speech, Romney stopped attacking Obama from all directions and started ticking off his plans to turn the economy around.
“If good jobs for the American people are job one for me if I’m president, how am I going to do that? Let me give you some ideas,” Romney said. “No. 1, I’m going to take advantage of the extraordinary energy resources we have in this country.”
The crowd cheered, and as Romney continued his list, Jones leaned over to me.
“See this is what I mean: I want him to put the positive stuff first,” he said. “The negative stuff at the end.”
“He needs to be telling me what he’s going to do,” Jones said.
The irony here, of course, is that it’s also Democrats’ No. 1 critique of Romney: He’s vague on solutions and heavy on criticisms. If Romney can’t persuade the Tom Joneses of the world that he’s got specific plans to set the country right, he might have a tough time persuading less ideological voters of the same thing.