Romney, who has been criticized on the campaign trail as showing too little empathy with average voters, at one point appeared to break up a little bit.
“We need to recognize that those who serve this country in uniform have a special place in our hearts,” Romney said. “And we have to care for them. And the American people feel that.”
As he was saying “that,” Romney’s voice seemed to crack. But the camera was on the panelist, who was already crying, so Romney’s expression wasn’t visible at that moment.
Romney’s campaign confirmed that the candidate became emotional and that his voice did indeed crack.
“Governor Romney was very moved by his story and clearly grateful for the sacrifice,” said an aide who was granted anonymity to discuss the situation candidly.
The forum — which was hosted by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in Wilmington, Ohio, and aired on Fox News Channel — was one of relatively few chances for three of the GOP contenders to meet in one place. After a furious debate season, there are no more such matchups on the calendar.
Romney, former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) each took questions individually at the forum, which featured one panel of Fox News contributors and one of Ohio residents. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) did not participate.
Gingrich, who spoke first, was pressed on how he could promise that gas prices would drop to $2.50 per gallon if he were to become president. He said that a number of analysts have shown how it can be done, and then suggested that, under President Obama, gas prices could rise much higher than they are today.
“The question is whether you want to be with [U.S. Energy Secretary Steven] Chu and Obama at around $9 or you want to be with Gingrich somewhere between $2 and $2.50,” he said.
At one point, a citizen panelist took issue with Gingrich’s remarks that people on unemployment get 99 weeks worth of benefits “for doing nothing.”
Santorum used his time to reiterate his stance against bailouts and government regulation.
He pointed to Pittsburgh, near where he grew up in Pennsylvania, as an example of a city responding to economic hardships by rebuilding.
“This is what has to happen when capitalism fails — to allow it to fall and come back up again stronger,” Santorum said.
Although the candidates didn’t appear together, they did get a chance to interact on camera at the end of the forum, between their closing statements. As Romney was walking offstage, he grabbed Santorum’s shoulders playfully.
“I’m not leaving,” Romney joked as Santorum tried to change places with him in front of the camera.