On the Internet, it led a man with a criminal past to fake his name and organize people for a candidate he called “a better man than I’ll ever be.”
And here, in a suburb near Tampa, it caused a 42-year-old business executive to spend her Wednesday nights as a volunteer DJ, talking up Romney on low-budget Internet radio. Romney Radio.
“He’s a fixer of things. He likes things to be right,” Dixie Cannon said into the microphone one night last week. She struggled to explain how strongly she felt. “I use the term ‘love’ as something that comes from my heart. . . . I fell in love with Mitt Romney.”
These are the sasquatches of American politics: rumored, hoped-for, so elusive that they can seem imaginary.
They are Mitt Romney’s superfans.
To be clear: These “Romniacs” are not Wall Street bigwigs or paid campaign operatives. Many of them, but not all, are Mormons like Romney. What unites them is a powerful — and unusual — excitement for a candidate who struggles to excite anybody else.
The good news for Romney is that they exist, these people who call him a “geek,” and “Ward Cleaver,” and love him deeply for it.
The bad news is that there doesn’t appear to be that many of them — a small, eclectic scattering in a nation with 137 million registered voters.
“We are in the thousands,” said Judi Rustin, 61, the poet in Arizona. “And we all bleed red Romney blood.”
So far, Romney has done something remarkable in this campaign: He has managed to win without winning. Despite claiming 16 states and a sizable lead in the race for GOP delegates, the candidate has not been able to build the kind of fervor that could sweep his opponents away. In a recent poll that asked for a one-word reaction to Romney, the most common answer was “no.”
Finding a Romniac, then, takes some doing.
The campaign has looked for them, selling official “Mitt Romney Super Fan” T-shirts for $30 apiece. At last count, it had sold 346. Rick Santorum, by contrast, has sold 3,000 of his $100 souvenir sweater vests.
And, online, Romney fanatics can have trouble even finding one another.
“Is anyone out there?” a user named Bob Riley wrote at Romniac.com in early March. A site administrator welcomed him. And then . . . nothing. For three weeks and two days, no other Romniacs answered his query.
But superfans are out there — recognizable, in the wild, by their entirely un-Romney-like levels of nervous excitement.
“I’m just so fired up, I can’t even sleep at night,” said Joe McCutchen, 72, a former carpet mill owner who writes a conservative newsletter in Ellijay, Ga.
McCutchen fell for Romney because Romney himself told him he would crack down on pork-barrel spending when they met six years ago in Sea Island, Ga.
To show his devotion, McCutchen submitted to mockery from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” which came to film him at his house. But he’s always afraid somebody else is doing more, so when he meets other die-hard supporters, he subjects them to a little Romney-off.