Mitt Romney’s aides point to candidate’s lighter side

Pressed to reveal the lighter side of Mitt Romney, his advisers on Saturday recalled the time when the former Massachusetts governor had a laugh over a prank involving the purported firing of a chambermaid.

The then-governor was traveling around the state with his protective detail when one of the troops short-sheeted his hotel room bed, recalled senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. Romney then composed a letter, addressed to the governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts by the hotel management, “apologizing for the bad housekeeping and the short sheeting of his bed.”

The letter “informed him that we had taken action to fire the chambermaid,” Fehrnstrom said. “And he showed that to the trooper that had short-sheeted the bed, and of course his face went white.”

Fehrnstrom and another Romney adviser, Peter Flaherty, spoke at a Washington Post Live event hosted Saturday morning at the newspaper’s headquarters. The two men were interviewed by Dan Balz, The Post’s chief correspondent, and Mary Jordan, an editor.

Fehrnstrom brought up the short-sheeting memory when describing how Romney is a huge prankster.

“The biggest misperception is that he’s stiff,” Flaherty said. “He’s got a great sense of humor. He’s very self-deprecating. He’s probably the most self-deprecating person in our campaign organization.”

Yet the advisers made clear Romney doesn’t see humor everywhere. While the Republican front-runner has appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and the done the Top 10 List on the “Late Show With David Letterman,” the advisers wouldn’t commit to him appearing on “Saturday Night Live,” which has extended an invitation and often is visited by the presidential candidates at least once per cycle.

And Fehrnstrom also lashed out at President Obama for “slow-jammin’ ” the news last week on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” — in an act that urged Congress to prevent the doubling of interest rates on some students’ loans this summer.

“There’s something a little bit off-key about the president slow-jammin’ or appearing to make light of the fact that students are struggling either with loans . . . or they’re graduating with an uncertain job market,” Fehrnstrom said. “I don’t think that’s something to slow jam about or make light of.”

The advisers drew laughs, however, when they said that Romney would very likely go to London for the Summer Olympics — and noted that his favorite sport is women’s volleyball. They didn’t commit to any other foreign trips, however.

As for domestic travel, they said it offers a clue to the states that Romney considers most important: Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Asked what state in the Democratic column Romney might win, Fehrnstrom said Michigan.

“Romney is a native Michigander. His dad was governor. People are familiar with the Romney brand of leadership,” Fehrnstrom said.

And he predicted that Romney’s skepticism about bailing out the auto sector wouldn’t hurt the former governor.

“His position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed,” Fehrnstrom said. “He said, ‘If you want to save the auto industry, just don’t write them a check. That will seal their doom. What they need to do is go through a managed bankruptcy process.’ ”

“Consider that the crown jewel. The only economic success that President Obama has had,” Fehrnstrom said, “is because he followed Mitt Romney’s advice.”

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith responded that “GM and Chrysler are in existence, creating jobs, and posting some of their most profitable quarters in history because President Obama bet on American workers. If Mitt Romney had had his way, the American auto industry and the millions of jobs it supports would cease to exist.”

Zachary A. Goldfarb is a staff writer covering the White House, focusing on President Obama’s economic, financial and fiscal policy.
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