“It’s a signifier,” Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said. “There are certain events that happen over the course of someone’s life that play into a larger story line and feed into a caricature. Seamus the dog story just plays into a negative story line about a guy who you may not completely trust.”
Douglas Gross, who chaired Romney’s 2008 Iowa campaign and has become a sometimes-critic of the former Massachusetts governor, said that when the story surfaced in the summer of 2007, “people scrunched their noses and said, ‘What?’ ”
“It’s like the height of the Michigan trees,” Gross said, referring to Romney’s recent comments about the trees there being the “right height.” “It’s another one of those things about Mitt that seems otherworldly. It seems abnormal and raises questions about who he is and whether he’s one of us.”
Romney’s aides are sensitive to the Seamus story. Inside campaign headquarters in Boston, a reporter was teasingly admonished recently for broaching the subject, and a campaign spokeswoman did not respond Wednesday to questions about the dog.
The candidate has said little about it. When the Wall Street Journal asked him about his dog in December, Romney was at a loss for words: “Uh . . . Love my dog.”
In 2007, Chris Wallace asked Romney, “What were you thinking?” He told the Fox News anchor: “This is a completely airtight kennel, mounted on the top of our car. He climbed in there regularly, enjoyed himself.”
‘A pure negative’
One Romney adviser said that the Seamus anecdote is “a pure negative” but that the campaign does not see it as overly damaging in a contest they believe is being shaped overwhelmingly by the economy.
“For crying out loud, with 8.3 percent unemployment, if the dog defeats you, you deserve to be defeated,” said the adviser, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Come on. You’ve got to run a good campaign to overcome that. President Obama overcame Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers.”
Some Romney supporters played down talk of Seamus.
“Mitt Romney doesn’t have many skeletons, so the fact that the media’s got to go to a dog story bodes well for my candidate,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said.
Others voiced disgust that it had become an issue at all.
“To focus on Governor Romney’s dog, Seamus, is shameful,” said Jeb Bradley, a former GOP congressman from New Hampshire. Bradley recalled talking about dogs with Romney as they drove between town hall meetings this past summer. “He was telling me about helping another dog he had deliver puppies. . . . I walked away from it knowing that Governor Romney is a dog lover.”
A few weeks after the story first came out, Romney’s sister Jane told the Globe that Seamus often left the family’s home to visit his “dog friends” in the neighborhood. “He kept ending up at the pound,” she said.
So in the mid-1980s, Romney sent Seamus to live with Jane in California, where he had more space to roam freely. If Seamus did not like riding in the rooftop carrier, she said, he would have found a way out of the space.
“He was a Houdini,” she said.
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.