One of the guys. That’s a far cry from how voters described Romney during the tumultuous GOP primaries. Now that he is their likely nominee and running an extremely close race against President Obama, Republicans are demonstrating fresh enthusiasm.
Instead of polite clapping, Romney’s campaign speech riffs are cheered with hoots and whistles and chants of “Rom-ney! Rom-ney!” As he builds to the crescendo in his remarks — saying it’s time to take the torch and hold it up high so the United States can again become “that shining city on a hill” — his words are drowned out with bursts of applause.
And when he steps off the stage to work the rope line, supporters reach out their hands six or eight deep. They put an arm over his shoulder, hug him or, as Barbara Morris did the other day in Milford, N.H., place their hands over his, look him in the eyes and say, “Bless you, Mitt.”
Barack Obama circa 2008 he is most certainly not. But Romney is campaigning with more confidence, in part because of his standing in the polls. While just 58 percent of Republicans viewed him favorably in mid-March, 78 percent had positive opinions in late May, according to Washington Post-ABC News polling.
Romney’s advisers argue that the state of the economy alone will decide the November election. But they acknowledge that Americans expect a level of zeal from their presidential candidates. They orchestrated a five-day bus tour for him through six battleground states to show him connecting with voters in a variety of settings.
In a New Hampshire park, he scooped ice cream (mostly vanilla); along a Pennsylvania highway, he stopped by a Wawa convenience store for a meatball hoagie; in Ohio, he served pancakes at an apple orchard on Father’s Day; and along the Mississippi River in Iowa, he went on a riverboat cruise and briefly took the steering wheel for a photo op.
Tom Rath, a senior adviser to Romney, said the bus tour is a chance “to get out from behind the podium and talk to people.”
“It’s, ‘Here I am, this is the guy you see on TV, connect with me,’ ” Rath said. “That’s really important. We’ve got to demonstrate our comfort level in it and our ability to do well in this kind of setting.”
Romney is taking steps to energize his crowds. He has dropped lines that reveal hesitation — “If I’m lucky enough to get elected president” — and added a call-and-response. He asks crowds if they think the president has given a “fair shot” by increasing deficit spending, favoring organized labor over businesses and bailing out companies.