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Romney Reaches Out To N.H. Voters

Dec 24, 2011
Originally published on December 24, 2011 7:25 am
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Mitt Romney had one of the busiest public stretches of his presidential campaign this week. A big blue bus with his name on the side rolled along hundreds of miles of New Hampshire roads making more than a dozen stops to meet voters just three weeks before the primary. The campaign called it The Earn It Tour. NPR's Ari Shapiro was along for the ride.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney has worked hard to counteract the ramrod-straight silver spoon perception that some voters have of him. So, these three days on the road were a blue jeans-clad extravaganza of handshakes and back slaps - with mixed results. One early morning at the Littleton Elks club, voters were still rubbing sleep from their eyes when Romney stepped out to explain why he felt so energetic.

MITT ROMNEY: Because when I got on the bus, my dear wife was kind enough to say would you like some cereal? And I picked Frosted Flakes. And would you like some toast? And I put honey on it. And would you like something to drink? I used chocolate milk. So I'm kind of high on sugar this morning and that may speed things up a bit.

SHAPIRO: A cast of prominent New Hampshire Republicans joined Romney on the bus. And as they rode to an appointment knocking on voters' doors in Berlin, New Hampshire, Romney got another call of support from former President George Herbert Walker Bush. Romney spoke to reporters the minute the bus parked.

ROMNEY: I thanked him for his support. His leadership, his heroic life and his friendship mean a great deal to me. I must admit this is much more important to me personally than even politically.

SHAPIRO: Romney has won the endorsement race hands down. But institutional GOP support may not help him with the anti-establishment Tea Party voters. And even one-on-one, Romney still has trouble connecting with some voters. At a town hall meeting in Conway, New Hampshire, 21-year-old Kallie Durkit described the situation this way:

KALLIE DURKIT: Relatability has been a large issue for you on this campaign trail. And as a college student, many people in my generation and cohort find it especially hard to relate to you as a candidate.

SHAPIRO: The question seemed to set Romney on edge, and he ultimately told her:

ROMNEY: What I can promise you is this: when you get out of college, if I'm president, you'll have a job. If President Obama's reelected, you will not be able to get a job.

SHAPIRO: In many ways, this trip was designed to get away from partisan debates. There were plenty of snapshots that could have translated directly to a campaign ad: dishing up spaghetti in Ashland, pumping gas into the bus in Randolph and chatting about livestock at an agriculture supply store in Lancaster.

ROMNEY: If you had a prize cow, how many gallons of milk would she provide in a day, do you think?

SHAPIRO: But there were also a few moments the campaign might have preferred to skip. At the service station where he gassed up the bus, Romney spotted a photo of an antique car belonging to the owners. Romney grew up in Detroit and loves old cars.

ROMNEY: Do you still have the Metropolitan?


ROMNEY: You want to sell it? Yes, she does...


ROMNEY: Oh, that's way too expensive for my taste.

SHAPIRO: That $10,000 offer was a reference to the unfortunate bet Romney tried to make with Texas Governor Rick Perry during a recent debate. During a visit to a clothing store, Romney did some Christmas shopping and spoke French with a woman from Quebec. He's fluent from his years as a missionary in Paris.

ROMNEY: (French spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (French spoken)

ROMNEY: (French spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (French spoken)

ROMNEY: (French spoken)

SHAPIRO: In 2004, Republicans excoriated Presidential nominee John Kerry for speaking French on the campaign trail. And the exchange could undermine this accusation that Romney leveled at President Obama all through the trip.

ROMNEY: I think you're seeing a president who fundamentally believes we should be more like Europe.

SHAPIRO: This kind of retail politics is virtually required to win a New Hampshire primary. Some voters here say they won't vote for any presidential candidate unless they've shaken hands with him. So, Romney shook a lot of hands this week, because as he told a breakfast customer at a diner in Tilton, New Hampshire, I've tried winning and losing. I prefer winning. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Concord, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.