Last week, Dennis King, a mild-mannered accountant in California who served with Mitt Romney on a 1968 Mormon mission to France, received an unexpected call from Romney’s right-hand man.
Bob White, Romney’s confidant, asked King what he thought about the media coverage of Romney.
“It’s driving me nuts,” King said he responded.
Within days, the 65-year-old King found himself with a Southwest ticket to Tampa (purchased on his own dime) and a room at the Marriott Waterside (courtesy of the campaign) — bound for the Republican National Convention to bear witness to Romney’s character.
King said he is one of more than a dozen Romney superfans from different chapters in the presidential candidate’s life — high school, college, church, business — who were coming to Tampa to vouch for Romney.
“He’s the life-of-the-party kind of guy,” King said on Tuesday morning as he sipped orange juice and nibbled a croissant in the breakfast room of the Marriott. “There is an intensity to him about things that are important to him,” he said. Romney “was just a dynamo on the mission” and “when he hears about someone who has a problem, he needs to fix that problem.”
As political celebrities and pseudo celebrities walked by (“Chris Christie!” King observed, before pointing at “another famous person, Bay Buchanan”), he shared his Romney stories. There was the Mormon mission in France when he drove to see Romney at a hospital, hours after a car crash that killed the mission president’s wife. Romney had been behind the wheel during the accident, which by all accounts was not his fault, and apparently thought he was at death’s door. “If I don’t make it, tell Ann I love her,” King recalls Romney saying. “I think he thought his injuries were more serious than they were.”
King then moved on to their time together at Brigham Young University, playing “Jeopardy!,” charades and water-skiing in Provo, Utah. There was the time Romney fashioned a ring from a doorknob so that King could propose to his girlfriend. As a businessman, King said, Romney was kind enough to offer his longtime friend financial advice. King attended a 2007 fundraiser in California during Romney’s first run for the presidency and asked Ann Romney why her husband was putting himself through such tribulations.
“That’s what God wanted him to do,” King said she responded.
King has lots of great things to say about Romney. The problem, he said, is that no one has asked to hear them since he landed in Tampa. The campaign, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has left King to fend for himself, without a schedule or talking points. He speculated that a tape of a radio interview he had mailed to the campaign — in which he boosted Romney — had put the team at ease.
Mostly he looked for things to do.
“I’m just waiting around,” he said.
Upon arriving in Tampa on Sunday, King had been looking forward to an intimate Sunday night party in the convention hall with Romney’s family and closest friends. He was a little disappointed that the get-together ballooned into a full-scale bash with an open bar, legions of consultants, and reporters and public relations executives. Even actress Janine Turner of “Northern Exposure” fame was in attendance. King found his way to two Romney sons, Matt and Craig (“It’s not hard to recognize them,” he said), and introduced himself as an old mission mate of their dad’s.
But when it came to persuading people less sold on Romney, King hadn’t been put to much use.
“I would have thought [Monday] would have been a good day,” he said, reasoning that because the first day of the convention was effectively canceled because of inclement weather, reporters may have been looking for someone to interview. He didn’t hear from the campaign, and spent time picking up T-shirts and other souvenirs for his grandkids back home. He then took a walk in the adjacent convention center, which was teeming with bored reporters interviewing the likes of Jon Voight. “It was fascinating,” King said. But he didn’t talk to any of them.
He had an early dinner with his sister-in-law, a Utah delegate, who was staying at the Hilton by the airport. (“It’s not a nice hotel.”) There, he joined other Mormons in helping pack bags with essentials for potential hurricane victims. The campaign called to tell him about a possible interview with Politico, but then called him back to say it had fallen through.
He headed for the Florida Aquarium for a soiree held by the Distilled Spirits Council. Reporters and delegates and party grandees walked down dark hallways lighted by glowing fish tanks and lined with stands offering rum and tequila and whiskey, shrimp and oysters. Women dressed as mermaids swam in the fish tanks. Bob White, the Romney confidant who had invited King, held court inside.
Not that King would know. He turned around and headed for his hotel.
“They didn’t let me in,” he said.