MADRID -- In Spain, Mitt Romney is like a complete unknown. Even though the U.S. presidential candidate just completed an (occasionally controversial) overseas tour, "Mitt, Mitt que?" is a refrain heard often here -- including at the headquarters of the conservative Popular Party, Spain's governing majority.
For the PP, every effort these days, weeks -- even months -- is fully concentrated on winding down the economic tempest pummeling the country.
"To be frank, right now, when Spain has such serious, grave problems, it's almost frivolous to pay attention to what's happening in the United States," said James M. Levy, a representative of Republicans Abroad Spain, who observed that awareness of the U.S. electoral campaign here is significantly lower than in 2008. Without a budget and with a team of just six volunteers (plus 361 Facebook fans and 42 Twitter followers), Levy's group aims to help its compatriots with absentee voting.
"Who? Who's that guy?" "I have no idea." "I've never heard of that person in my life." These are the answers of a group of Spaniards, ranging in age from 37 to 71, when asked about Mitt Romney. A 42-year-old math teacher even responded with, "Is that a computer program?"
"Right now, with the exception of people who are following current events in the U.S. very closely, Romney is a very little-known personality," said Daniel Ureña, director of Mas Consulting in Spain, a firm that specializes in political campaigns and whose U.S. division works with Republicans.
And Romney will find it difficult to win over public opinion in Europe, where President Barack Obama is adored. The Obama phenomenon has no recent precedent, not even among other Democratic candidates, said analyst and political adviser Alana Moceri, who was a representative of the Democratic Party in Spain during the 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections.
"Bill Clinton was well respected in Europe, [Al] Gore was better known after the movie 'An Inconvenient Truth,' and [John] Kerry was viewed as the not-very-well-liked alternative to [George W.] Bush," Moceri explained.
Despite a certain disappointment about the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president's unfulfilled promises, such as closing the Guantanamo prison and ending the war in Afghanistan, 71 percent of Spaniards polled by the Pew Research Center want Obama to be reelected.
"Ideologically, the [Democratic] Party falls between the PP and the [center-left] Socialist Party," said Moceri. Many Spaniards on the left think that Obama holds positions similar to theirs. In fact, the Spanish right also agrees with Obama on many points.
"When I say here that it's entirely possible that Romney will be elected president of the United States, hardly anyone believes me," said Levy of Republicans Abroad Spain.
What the Spanish media report about Romney is that he has great wealth, pays little in taxes and is accused of outsourcing American jobs.
The recent headlines from Romney's trip abroad aren't likely to enhance his reputation. El País, Spain's most prominent daily paper, summed up the candidate's first stop like this: "Romney ruins image in London by criticizing security of Games."
Compare that assessment to the one four years ago, when El País was keenly monitoring then-candidate Obama's trip to Berlin: "Obama conquers the heart of Europe" was the headline of a story then.
Cristina Manzano, editor-in-chief of the magazine Foreign Policy en Español, believes that Romney's image in the press has become "very distorted by the conduct of the Republican Party as a whole" -- which she described as a group more concerned with taking down Obama than with getting the United States back on track.
"The Spanish press has taken it upon itself to give readers an impression of Romney as a capitalist brute or butcher," said Jordi Pérez Colomé, a journalist who follows American politics and runs the blog Obama World. Colomé sees Romney as clearly the best of the Republican bunch, compared to Rick Santorum, Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich. "He is a good politician," Colomé said, if "a little green."
Spanish Sen. Juan Moscoso del Prado, head of trans-Atlantic relations for the executive branch of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, agrees that Romney is the best of the Republican primary contenders. His profile is "closest to the American center, especially after four years of increasing radicalization on the part of the Republican Party," Moscoso said.
When it comes to foreign policy, however, the "tone will turn hardline" under a Romney presidency, Manzano predicted.
Moscoso agreed. "As a good Republican, he does not believe in multilateral solutions to conflicts or in international organizations like the UN," Moscoso said. But he doesn’t think Romney will necessarily be a "president prone to giving scares," either.
In Spain, no one is expecting a visit from Romney any time soon, not even if he becomes president. Aside from an encounter the candidate had in April with former Prime Minister José María Aznar -- and despite the fact that the Republicans, not the Democrats, are more ideologically aligned with the current Spanish government -- it seems unlikely that U.S.-Spain relations will grow closer in the near future.
"Unfortunately, right now, Spain is not at its best in terms of international popularity," said Ureña. "It's not a priority for a lot of people."
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