Mitt Romney, now with press pool in tow, goes grocery shopping

Mitt Romney, welcome to the bubble.

On Monday morning, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said goodbye to what little remained of his personal privacy. He now has what’s known as a protective pool — a small group of reporters and photographers who follow him every time he leaves his home, even when he’s running routine errands.

Naturally, then, Romney’s quick stop at a hardware store here turned into a mini media circus. Photographers snapped pictures through a window of him checking out at the register. Reporters wanted to know what he bought. And the candidate didn’t give up much: “Hardware stuff,” he said.

Three minutes later, Romney was at a grocery store, where reporters analyzed his shopping-cart bounty for clues about what he might be up to on his day off at his lakefront vacation home here.

Twelve-packs of Caffeine-Free Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry? He must have house guests. Greek yogurt? He’s trying to be healthy. Two ears of native sweet corn? He must be cooking himself dinner.

“I’ve got some folks coming over today,” said Romney, sporting jeans, an open-collar shirt and New Balance running shoes.

When one reporter asked if his house guests were named Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty — the two most-buzzed-about potential vice presidential candidates — he just laughed.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” Romney said.

But he did not answer the question.

And by his third stop of the day, at a Rite Aid pharmacy, Romney held his iPhone to his ear as he walked past reporters — hardly an invitation for more chitchat with the press pool.

Forty-two minutes after leaving his residence, Romney made it back home, where a campaign aide said the candidate intended to remain for the rest of the day. Some of his senior advisers planned to stop by for meetings.

This is a traditional rite of passage for any presidential nominee. Sometime before they formally accept the nomination at the summer conventions, campaigns begin protective pool coverage, which is similar to coverage of the president at the White House. Journalists follow the candidates every time they leave the house or their hotel, from morning to night, riding in vans in their motorcades. No rendezvous is secret anymore.

As Romney walked out of the Rite Aid, he realized that his motorcade of Chevy Suburbans and vans idling in the parking lot was blocking a woman into her parking spot.

“I’m sorry. . . . I don’t know about these guys,” Romney told her, motioning toward his Secret Service agents.

“It’s because you’re a very special person,” she told Romney, giving him a thumbs up.

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