Campaigns find that some truths are inconvenient
From Mitt Romney this month to John McCain in 2008 and John Kerry four years earlier, presidential candidates have created problems for themselves by blurting out words that are at once factual but politically ill-advised.
Voters say they want straight-talking candidates. But voters also tend to punish candidates who veer too far off script or who make assertions that, while true, cause people to cringe and question whether these politicians are out of touch with those they seek to represent.
Consider Romney who recently confronted a heckler demanding higher taxes on corporations.
"Corporations are people, my friend," the GOP presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts governor shot back. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people."
Corporations are made up of the people who work for them and stockholders who benefit from their profits. The Supreme Court said as much last year when it eased restrictions on campaign spending by corporations.
But was it smart for Romney to say, given the nation's mood? Probably not.
Massachusetts Sen. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee, learned a hard lesson about reinforcing an existing story line. He opposed money for the war in Iraq and voted against the legislation when it came up for final consideration. But he had gone along with an earlier version.
At one point, he told supporters: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." He was trying to explain that he wanted to ensure troops had the necessary equipment, but at the same time hoped to convey a message of opposition to the war.
The result was that Republicans cast Kerry as a flip-flopper.
McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, created some problems for his campaign after the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank at the outset of the global finance meltdown.
"The fundamentals of the economy are strong," McCain said, trying to reassure a jittery nation. Few probably would disagree with that explanation, but as the stock market tanked his sound bite sounded jarringly off base.
It was a searing misstatement for the Arizona senator who'd never seemed comfortable discussing the economy.