Romney plays up passion during N.H. campaign stop
KEENE, N.H. — No matter that his critics call him robotic and somewhat dull. Republican Mitt Romney said he'll keep campaigning as he has to unseat President Obama in 2012, and insists he can show voters he's passionate about doing that.
"I'm following the strategy I've had and that we've laid out from the very beginning," he said. "If you're running for president, your focus should be on the person who is president and his failures and how you're going to make America better."
During two days of wooing voters in the Granite State, Romney told the Tribune-Review that he aims his message at the economy. When he moves on to the early caucus state of Nevada, he intends to outline an economic plan on Sept. 6, timed within days of Obama's planned introduction of another job creation strategy.
Romney's plan would adjust tax rates for employers, streamline business regulations, open more foreign trade markets and emphasize domestic sources of energy, he said. Most importantly, he would rein in spending.
"We can't have a government that consistently spends more than it takes in," he said.
The former Massachusetts governor and investment banker has led GOP candidates this summer, but a Gallup poll late last week put him in second place to his newest rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who garnered 29 percent of support among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents to Romney's 17 percent.
"There are many polls; there will be many more polls — and perhaps even more candidates," Romney said. "The more, the merrier. It brings more attention to the race."
Romney said he knows Perry is a good campaigner, but he doesn't worry that Perry and Democratic Party leaders are taking shots at him, portraying him as a robotic, hedge fund power broker. "If you did not see enough passion or character in the past couple of days, then you must have missed something," Romney told the Trib.
He arrived upbeat for a speech in the Keene Recreation Center after walking about a half-mile through town when traffic stalled because of students moving onto the Keene State College campus. Along the way, he said, he waved to people sitting in cars.
He won over Virginia Street, 89, when he called upon her during the town hall-style meeting.
"The media said you were too quiet and dull," Street said, prompting applause when she added, "and they've been 100 percent wrong."
Ted McGreer, a popular local businessman, shook as many hands as Romney did while walking into the rec center. He arrived skeptical about the candidate but left less so.
"I like the business part of his candidacy; it is an important part of what this country really needs right now," said McGreer, 42, who sells athletic gear in the college town. "It was nice to see him outside of the debates, where you get these one-minute snapshots of his personality."
In Claremont, where City Manager Guy Santagate hosted a business roundtable with Romney, "he was great, really sound on our concerns," Santagate said.
With voters, Romney deftly weaves jokes and family anecdotes into his message. He takes questions on the issues: jobs and the economy, border troubles and immigration, government and national security. He works to prove that he is the candidate who could bridge the concerns of conservatives.
Many people have questions about where he stands on social issues. He has criticized cities that offer assistance to illegal immigrants; defended marriage between a man and a woman; stressed the importance of marrying before having children; and called Vice President Joe Biden's implied support of China's forced one-child policy "reprehensible and astonishing."
Romney is navigating the divide between fiscal and cultural conservatives, said Catherine Wilson, a political scientist at Villanova University.
"He needs to develop a nuanced political strategy that both allows space for people of faith in the public square and (allows) his small-government, pro-business growth political platform to resonate with political moderates and secular voters," Wilson said.
Romney's strategy of working to defeat the incumbent could be effective, said Joel Goldstein, a presidential historian at St. Louis University, who noted that Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush "were not returned to office in tough economic times."
Romney said he consults a broad base of economic advisers, including former Secretary of State George Shultz and Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University. Hundreds of small businessmen and -women across the country have offered suggestions as well, he said.
One event, at a senior center in Lebanon, turned prickly when Obama supporters peppered Romney with questions. A woman who would not give her name said after the event that she was campaigning for the president and encouraged Obama loyalists to attend. "At least half of the people in this room are Obama people," she said.
Lower Burrell native Bill Tingle and his wife, Rita, who grew up in Pittsburgh's Morningside neighborhood, have lived in Lebanon for more than 20 years. Tingle said he voted for Obama in 2008 but was impressed by Romney's handling of tough questions from the audience.
"I really liked his seven-point plan on the economy; it really makes sense," Tingle said. He thinks Romney listens well, something that "seems to be missing from this administration. They are so disconnected from the people."
Romney told the Trib that he has even learned to keep his temper in check after earning a reputation for having a short fuse during his failed presidential campaign four years ago.
"The people," he said, "I love interacting with them, listening to them and learning from them."
Mitt Romney campaigns in New Hampshire
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns in New Hampshire.
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