BRADENTON, Fla. -- Mitt Romney had failed to win Richard Wood's support after meeting with him in January. The former governor of Massachusetts listened as Wood described his business woes and his tentative plan to file for bankruptcy.
"That's tragic," Romney said, during a meeting with Wood and several other Florida home and business owners who were also struggling. "In some cases, if the debt is not in something you can service, it's like you have to move on and start over away from those debts."
While Wood believed the Republican presidential candidate showed true sympathy -- he said at the time that Romney "felt our pain" -- it wasn't until Romney stood up to Newt Gingrich during a debate in Tampa that Wood decided to vote for Romney in the Florida primary.
"He was more forceful," Wood said.
Wood, 63, owned a title insurance company until 2010, when he folded the business as the economy slowed and housing values crashed. Wood said he's in foreclosure and not making payments on several investment properties worth half as much as when he bought them. But even though Romney himself endorsed moving on and starting over, Wood doesn't love the idea of walking away from debt, and almost teared up when discussing it.
"I've never been a deadbeat," he said during an interview Tuesday inside his near-empty office, a suite on the first floor of a two-story building in Bradenton, about an hour from Tampa, the site of the Republican National Convention this week. Wood's desk is gone, and boxes of files sit on the floor, awaiting a trip to the garage at his nearby home. A sign on the door says the office is closed today, but it's really closed every day.
"My credit score's always been above 800," Wood said, wearing shorts and a polo shirt with a Republican elephant logo. "It took five financial advisers and three bankruptcy attorneys to persuade me what we did was OK, by not paying, walking away from this. I think I finally justified it: It's not my fault."
He's had a bad time negotiating with his lenders, with a deal to hand over the keys falling through earlier this year. "I would sign a $100,000 deficiency note and make payments on it," Wood said, adding that the bank would have lost even more under the arrangement. "But when I got the paperwork back from them they wanted all my equipment and furniture, and also that $100,000 note turned out to be $217,000. And on top of that they wanted me to agree that it would survive bankruptcy."
During their meeting in January, Romney suggested bankruptcy is sometimes the only thing to do when a bank won't negotiate: "It's helpful if you get an institution that's willing to work with you, but if you don't you have no other option."
Romney also said banks have been too reluctant to recognize losses. "My own view is you recognize the distress, you take the loss and let people reset. Let people start over again, let the banks start over again," Romney said then. "This effort to try and exact the burden of their mistakes on homeowners and commercial property owners, I think, is a mistake."
"We all make mistakes. I worked hard," he said. "What have I done wrong? I finally came to the conclusion I hadn't done anything wrong. It's just circumstances."
But in President Obama's case, circumstances are no excuse. Wood said the bad economy is his main motivation for supporting Romney over Obama, though he also favors Romney on most other issues.
"The key thing is the economy," he said. "Obama has shown us that he is not successful in dealing with the economy."
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