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."
With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/mitt-romney-will-not-repu_n_1551540.html" target="_hplink">(May 28, 2012) --</a></strong> Despite a resurgence of <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/mitt-romney-s-new-bff-donald-trump.html" target="_hplink">Donald Trump's birther claims</a>, Romney refused to repudiate the billionaire, who has been helping with his 2012 campaign efforts. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me ... I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney said. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Who Let The Dogs Out (Baha Men)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/mitt-romney-seamus_n_1429925.html" target="_hplink">(April 16, 2012) -- </a></strong> In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Romney discussed the political fallout over strapping his dog Seamus to a car roof. He admits that he probably would not do it again. (Handout)
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (R.E.M.)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/mitt-romney-medicare-president-obama_n_1403267.html" target="_hplink">WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2012) --</a></strong> Speaking before the Newspaper Association of America, Romney attacked Barack Obama on his health record, claiming the president "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
For The Love Of Money (The O'Jays)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/mitt-romney-i-made-a-lot-of-money_n_1345516.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 14, 2012) -- </strong></a> Romney became testy on Fox News while discussing his appeal to lower-income voters. On the same day, Occupy Wall Street protesters staged a demonstration outside Mitt's Waldorf Astoria hotel fundraiser. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-south_n_1334478.html" target="_hplink">PASCAGOULA, Miss. (March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> While on the trail in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney got in touch with his Southern side, learning how to say "y'all" and liking his grits. With those new experiences in hand, he admitted that "strange things are happening to me." (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)
Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink"><strong>DETROIT, Mich. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- </strong></a> While speaking before the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field, Romney listed not two, not three, but four American-made cars that he and his wife, Ann, owned. Among the vehicles: "a couple of Cadillacs." (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
It's The Hard-Knock Life (Annie & The Orphans)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/mitt-romney-very-poor_n_1246557.html" target="_hplink">TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN, Romney noted that he is "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net for that segment of the populace. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
America The Beautiful
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romney-america-the-beautiful-_n_1243908.html" target="_hplink"><strong>THE VILLAGES, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2012) --</strong></a> On the eve of Florida's primary, Romney led his supporters in a singing of the patriotic song. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Successful (Drake, Lil Wayne)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/mitt-romney-tax-returns_n_1217708.html" target="_hplink"> <strong>CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 19, 2012) -- </strong></a> During CNN's GOP debate, Romney refused to commit to disclosing his tax returns, offering no apologies for his success. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Bye Bye Bye ('N Sync)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/mitt-romney-i-like-being-able-to-fire-people_n_1194115.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NASHUA, N.H. (Jan. 9, 2012) -- </strong></a> In a speech about insurance options, Romney tells audience members, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." (Photo:AP/Charles Dharapak)
Don't Know Why (Norah Jones)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/mitt-romney-embraces-climate-change-denial_n_1063905.html" target="_hplink">PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 27, 2011) --</a></strong> Back in June 2011, Romney said humans are somewhat tied to climate change. By October, he had reversed course, saying "We don't know what causes climate change." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)