As Romney heads to South Carolina hoping to polish off his rivals after Tuesday’s primary victory, there may be lasting damage from his week of campaigning in New Hampshire. In trying to correct a weakness — some critics have called it inauthenticity — Romney may have only amplified it.
By Monday, the candidate himself seemed to have realized as much.
“If you think I should spend my entire campaign carefully choosing how everything I say relates to people, as opposed to saying my own experience and telling my own experience, that would make me a very different person than I am,” Romney told reporters at a sometimes testy news conference. “I’m going to tell people my own experiences in life, and I realize they’re not the same as everyone else I speak with, but I’m going to tell you about myself and if people like that, great.”
The Mitt Romney Americans have come to know through his five-year quest for the presidency was the miracle baby of an auto industry titan who went from a private boys preparatory school in a tony Detroit suburb to Harvard Business School. The country’s best consulting firms fought to hire him, and within a few short years he was the one doing the hiring.
Just a couple of years ago, Romney did own four houses, but after the 2008 election he downsized to three, including a San Diego beach house he is planning to more than double. In December, he was shopping with his wife, Ann, who told reporters that her favorite Christmas present from her husband was a horse.
America knows Romney not as an aw-shucks, reluctant citizen-politician but as a conscientious scion who worshiped his father, George, the three-term Michigan governor and onetime presidential candidate who long ago groomed young Mitt for high office. “He was teaching me how to get out there,” Romney told Time in 2007.
Around the edges in New Hampshire this past week, the former Massachusetts governor tried to convey everyman sensibilities and experiences. But to voters who already had judged Romney a slippery, stiff and distant politician, the reality he tried to create here didn’t seem real.
“I’ve been aware of Romney for a lot of years,” said Alan Riley, 60, a retired systems support engineer from Goffstown, N.H., who voted for former U.S. senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. “You sometimes wondered when he was governor, who died and made him king? And he didn’t think he was a king. He thought he was God.”
Patricia Ryan, 64, a retired teacher here, said she was a Democrat but deeply disappointed in President Obama and open to supporting a Republican. Of Romney, she said: “He’s okay. I’m not afraid of him like I am some Republicans. But I think he’s so rich he has no idea what it means to work hard and support yourself.”