The Washington Post

Mitt Romney’s ‘passion makers’ make his case

These are Mitt’s passion makers — a band of surrogates who make the case for Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy more passionately, and sometimes more persuasively, than the candidate himself.

Everywhere the Republican front-runner has campaigned this past week, he has been introduced by one or more of them. At a rally in Manchester, it was former New Hampshire governor John Sununu: “That’s a true conservative! That’s a real leader!” At a spaghetti dinner in Tilton, it was former congressman Jeb Bradley: “My name is Jeb Bradley and I have a friend. Mitt USA! Mitt USA! Mitt USA!” At a town hall meeting in Peterborough, it was Sen. John McCain (Ariz.): “There’s been the flavor of the month . . . but there’s always been Romney.”

There have been others, too. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (“We need his experience in Washington!”), South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (“We need a landslide in New Hampshire!”) and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (“Are you ready to elect a president of the United States who doesn’t strangle the economy by its economic throat?”).

And Sunday night in Exeter, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will roar into the Granite State to introduce Romney. The last time they shared a stage, in a chilly Iowa parking lot just before last week’s caucuses, Christie threatened to return — “Jersey-style, people” — if Iowans didn’t jump aboard the Romney train.

In an effort to build momentum heading into Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, Romney has turned to brighter stars — or at least more bombastic public speakers — for help.

“Even Johnny Carson needed Ed McMahon,” said Tom Rath, a senior Romney adviser based in New Hampshire. “It’s a lot to ask him to be the emcee and the star.”

Romney’s introducers don’t merely stand on stage to validate the former Massachusetts governor’s conservative credentials and press his campaign’s message that he has the skills and experience to beat President Obama. They also bring needed energy to his road show.

For a candidate seemingly from central casting, primped and primed for the Oval Office, Romney on the stump is devoid of the pizzazz that so many past presidents have parlayed into electoral success. He rarely stirs passion in his audiences — which, to his credit, have been large, if largely subdued.

Romney visibly feeds off the energy created by his guests. Saturday, at an early-morning rally in Derry, Haley introduced Romney with verve. She raised her arms and said: “Get excited, New Hampshire!”

When Haley turned the microphone over to Romney, he told her: “Oh, you stay here. Don’t leave! Oh, this is so much fun.” Glancing at Haley and Ayotte, who also spoke, Romney told the crowd of about 1,000: “You can’t imagine how much fun it is to be here with these great conservative leaders.”

Romney’s deployment of surrogates speaks not only to the broad support he has received from Republican luminaries but also to his campaign’s acknowledgment of Romney’s liabilities as a candidate.

A few days before Christmas, Romney delivered a major speech in Bedford that his campaign billed as his closing argument to New Hampshire voters. He spoke from teleprompters, and professional camera crews were on hand to film the event for use in his campaign advertisements. But the address seemed to fall flat with his audience. A couple hundred supporters sat politely in folding chairs and offered only occasional applause.

After the Bedford speech, Romney’s advisers exchanged strategy memos debating how to create more electricity at his campaign events. They started playing louder warm-up music — including his theme song, Kid Rock’s “Born Free,” which thumped through the Rochester Opera House as he bounded onto the stage here Sunday — as well as recruiting more high-profile surrogates to speak.

Before, “all the energy in the room was energy that he brings into the room. He wasn’t electric,” Rath said. “It’s gotten electric now. . . . All the energy in the room is there before he gets into the room. Now it takes us 25 or 30 minutes to get him out of the room. He gets interrupted by applause.”

The surrogates don’t always stay on script, however. Romney and McCain, who had an intense rivalry during the 2008 race, exchanged awkward banter at their five joint campaign stops last week. At one event in South Carolina, McCain mistakenly referred to Romney as Obama. And at what was staged as a triumphant return to New Hampshire on Wednesday following his eight-vote win in Iowa, complete with the soundtrack of “Top Gun,” McCain found a way to jab Romney.

“By the way,” he told a lukewarm audience at a Manchester high school gymnasium, “we forgot to congratulate him on his landslide victory last night.”

Later that day, at a town hall in Peterborough, McCain dubbed Romney “Landslide Mitt.”

But landslide or not, McCain seemed convinced of the final outcome.

“On behalf of Mitt Romney,” McCain said, “I’d like to invite all of you to his inauguration.”

The crowd erupted in applause. And Romney, smiling to the side, laughed his signature laugh: “Ha. Ha. Ha.”

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
New Hampshire primary: What to expect
New Hampshire will hold a traditional primary just eight days after the Iowa caucuses. Polling in the Granite state has historically been volatile in the final weeks before the primary. After the Iowa caucuses, many New Hampshire voters cement their opinions.
The Post's Ed O'Keefe says ...
Something has clicked for Bush in New Hampshire in the past few days. What has transpired by no means guarantees him a top-tier finish in Tuesday’s Republican primary here, but the crowds turning out to see him are bigger, his delivery on the stump is crisper and some of his key rivals have stumbled. At the least, the developments have mostly silenced talk of a hasty exit and skittish donors.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.