To listen to Mitt Romney these days is to wish at times that someone would give him back his PowerPoint.
Romney, after all, made a fortune on his ability to make a crisp presentation and close a deal. As a governor pushing for a landmark approach to health-care coverage in Massachusetts, the former management consultant won over doubters by putting together a slide presentation and taking it all over the state.
So why is he having so much trouble making the sale with the Republican electorate?
Many of his allies and supporters are increasingly worried that the problem is Romney himself.
As Romney has adjusted tactically to a primary battle that is turning out to be tougher than he bargained for, some of his backers now say they fear that Romney is reinforcing the doubts that voters already have about him. Businessman Peter Thomas, for instance, showed up at a Romney appearance near Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday, but admitted he is now leaning more toward Rick Santorum.
"He's more blue collar, his story," Thomas said of Santorum. "He's a straight shooter. He says what he means. He won't drift in the wind."
One fundraiser, who did not want to be identified publicly criticizing a candidate in whom he invested, said Romney's difficulty is connecting with people. Another one said it is inconsistency. Still another, incoherence.
Before business-oriented audiences, Romney seems at ease, focused and assured, a man who knows he is talking a language his listeners understand.
"In the private sector that you all live in, you're either fiscally conservative, or you're out of business," Romney told a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Farmington Hills, Mich., on Thursday. "How is business different from government? There are a lot of differences. One is your job is harder. There's no question being in the private sector is very demanding and less forgiving. You see, in government if you make a big mistake, you just blame the opposition party."
But when he takes the stage at large rallies without a teleprompter, Romney veers from bromides about America's greatness ("I love America. I love its beauty. This is a beautiful state, too. I love this state.") to odd facts about his upbringing ("My dad was a lathe and plaster carpenter, like a drywall carpenter. He could take a handful of nails, stick them in his mouth and spit the nails out pointy end forward.") to broad indictments of Barack Obama ("The president is slowly but surely turning us into a European-style welfare state. This is not the America we've known.")
Romney's word choices -- such as his recent declaration that he had been a "severely conservative" governor -- can grate on the very people he is trying to win over.