BOSTON - Mitt Romney staked his campaign on the economy, and the economy let him down.
For years, Romney promoted himself as a turnaround artist, a corporate expert with extensive executive experience who knew how to make systems work. He would point to his stewardship rescuing the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and his record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded, in helping companies succeed.
The Republican nominee tried hard to convince voters the economy should be doing better, that President Obama lacked the know-how to manage and improve it.
Obama looked vulnerable. Just one year ago, his approval rating had sunk to 41 percent, driven down by a sluggish economic recovery and a disillusioned, divided public.
But the numbers were just not bad enough to warrant replacing the president. The unemployment rate in October was 7.9 percent - a tick above the 7.8 percent the month Obama took office, but well below the 10 percent peak of October 2009. The economy grew at a 2 percent clip in the third quarter - not robust, but hardly a recession.
And consumer confidence, a key measure of voter sentiment, was up last month.
"He felt the economy was going to be enough. It really wasn't," Colorado-based political analyst Floyd Ciruli said of Romney.
The economy's slow-but-steady improvement robbed Romney of his best argument for why people should vote against Obama, but he also failed to make a clear case for why people should choose him instead.
Romney was dogged throughout the campaign by charges he was too quick to change his views, too inauthentic. Conservatives distrusted him because of his moderate ways while governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. Moderates were wary because he seemed to shift sharply right during his presidential run.
As a result, "he was everybody's second choice in the (Republican) primaries," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
On issue after issue, Romney's views seemed to change to fit his political needs.
In January, when seeking the Republican nomination - and aiming to woo conservatives - he urged "self-deportation" for illegal immigrants. Six months later, the nomination now secure, Romney took no position on Obama's new directive allowing many younger immigrants to stay in this country.
Two days before the first debate Oct. 3, Romney had another view. He told the Denver Post he would not overturn visas granted under Obama's policy.
His quest for likability took a hit in September with the release of a video recorded at a fundraising event that put Romney's campaign on the defensive. In the video, Romney said that 47 percent of Americans would vote for Obama "no matter what." He characterized the president's supporters as irresponsible "victims" who pay no income tax and are "dependent upon government."
The video, published online by Mother Jones, reinforced the Obama campaign's attack that Romney was an out-of-touch rich snob, a label he never quite managed to shake.
"He defined Romney before Romney did," said Ciruli, the pollster.
Romney contended that his business success made him uniquely qualified to lead the country out of recession, but his huge personal fortune - worth up to $250 million - proved an impediment from the start.
Romney repeatedly stumbled into awkward gaffes such as offering a $10,000 bet during a primary debate, referring to wife Ann's "two Cadillacs," and boasting of his friendship with "NASCAR team owners."
The off-the-cuff remarks made Romney vulnerable to accusations that he was out of touch with ordinary Americans struggling in the aftermath of the economic crisis.
Romney did his best to redefine himself as more moderate in the widely praised Oct. 3 debate performance, but by Election Day the debate momentum that had carried him for weeks had dissipated.
In the final week of the race, Hurricane Sandy's disastrous strike on the East Coast further eroded what was left of Romney's debate bounce.
His last-ditch effort to convince voters that Obama's effort to revive the economic recovery had been a failure backfired when his campaign aired a TV spot that suggested General Motors and Chrysler planned to ship jobs overseas to China. The companies' executives ridiculed the claim and fact checkers quickly debunked it.
Romney's opposition to the federal government's $80 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler haunted him into the final days of the campaign, particularly in key Midwestern manufacturing states Michigan and Ohio.
In a 2008 New York Times op-ed, titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," Romney had called for a "managed bankruptcy" for Ford, GM and Chrysler, without the federal loans or assistance that the Obama administration provided. He later repeated the sentiment on television.
The president never let him forget it. Neither did the voters.