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Mitt Romney Campaign Questioned By GOP Activists

Mitt Romney

By KASIE HUNT   09/15/12 05:03 PM ET  AP

WASHINGTON -- Republican activists are incredulous: Why can't Republican Mitt Romney seem to break open a tight race with President Barack Obama given the nation's sluggish economy and conservative enthusiasm to beat the Democrat?

"He ought to be killing Obama, and he's clearly not doing that," said 32-year-old R.J. Robinson, one of the thousands of activists attending the annual Values Voters Summit this weekend. "He should be doing better."

Added Mike Garner, a 27-year-old hawking "Reagan was right" buttons at the meeting: "If Romney loses this election, the party really needs to do some soul-searching."

Their sentiments were echoed in interviews with more than a dozen GOP activists and social conservative leaders who attended the annual gathering focused on social and cultural issues and sponsored by the Family Research Council. The summit was filled with rhetoric meant to fire up the party's base voters. Romney needs them to turn out in force at the polls in November and, between now and then, to convince others to do the same through extensive get-out-the-vote grassroots canvassing in swing-voting states. To energize them, dozens of high-profile conservatives – including former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – used their speeches to paint the 2012 race as a transformational moment in the country's history and insist that the president is turning the nation into a place its founders wouldn't recognize.

Energy was high inside the hotel ballroom where the luminaries spoke.

But frustration with Romney coursed through the hallways, where groups like the National Organization for Marriage and Americans United for Life promoted their policy positions and conservative pundits hawked their books.

These so-called values voters are a core part of the Republican base. They have never fully warmed to the former Massachusetts governor, who previously supported abortion rights and is a Mormon, a faith many evangelicals view skeptically. Even so, many said they were cheered by Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a social and fiscal conservative hero to many in this group, as a running mate. They said they were rallying behind the Republican ticket, though mostly because of a desire to beat a Democratic president they like less than the Republican nominee. These activists said they're launching bus tours, signing up voters and offering to organize in their churches to help the GOP win.

But they worry that the candidate himself isn't doing enough to gain ground on Obama, who polls show has a slight edge nationally and in key states just seven weeks before the election. And they offered plenty of advice to Romney for changing the trajectory of the race in the coming weeks – echoing Republican presidential campaign veterans who over the past week have raised concerns about the state of the GOP nominee's run and whether he was letting the race slip away from him.

"He needs to be more visible," said Dawn Hawkins, who works for the anti-pornography group Morality In Media. Even though Romney and his allies outspent Obama and his backers for months on TV in battleground states, Hawkins said: "He's not up on TV very often. He has very few ads running on TV and radio. Obama has ads everywhere."

Tammy Baker, a military spouse originally from Texas, said she thinks Romney should sit down for "fireside chats" with the American people so they can get to know him better. "I'm not talking boxers and briefs here, you know. I'm not interested in that," she said. "But I do feel that he's pretty rigid, and because of that we don't get a chance to really get to know that person."

Baker's other piece of advice: "Let Paul Ryan out of the box."

Bryan Fischer, an official with the American Family Association, went even further, accusing Romney's campaign of putting "a bag over Paul Ryan's head."

Like others here, he warned that if Romney loses, the Republican Party is certain to undergo a tough period. "Soul-searching," "self-reflection" and "tumult" were the words others used.

"If the Republican Party loses this election, conservatives will have had it," Fischer said. "They will be done, finished."

Romney did not appear in person at the Values Voters gathering this year, instead appearing via video. His campaign clearly understands the nervousness among a group that's not Romney's natural constituency; it sent their favorite son – Ryan – to reassure them.

"I'm not the only one who has told Mitt that maybe he needs to talk more about himself and his life," Ryan told the group Friday morning, to scattered laughter from the crowd. "It wouldn't hurt if voters knew more of those little things that reveal a man's heart and his character."

Conference organizers said Romney himself has made personal overtures to evangelicals recently.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said that he met with Romney one-on-one about two months ago, and he told the Republican nominee he was prepared to tap a network of pastors and travel the country campaigning for the nominee.

"When it comes to evangelicals and Mormons, we have theological differences, and they're significant, and we're not going to gloss over those," Perkins said. "But we have a shared concern for this country. And we have a shared set of values that can help get the nation back on track. And that's what he is emphasizing and that's what I think he needs to continue to emphasize to draw social conservatives into his campaign."

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  • NASCAR Friends

    At the Daytona 500 race, Mitt Romney's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/26/mitt-romney-nascar-team-owners_n_1303029.html" target="_hplink">attempt to connect with voters went awry</a> when he admitted that he didn't follow racing as closely as "some of the most ardent fans." "But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners," he added. At the same event, he told a group of fans wearing plastic ponchos, "I like those fancy raincoats you bought. Really sprung for the big bucks." Romney later <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/mitt-romney-garbage-bag-rain-gear_n_1313499.html" target="_hplink">defended the comment</a>, saying, "Look, I have worn a garbage bag for rain gear myself."

  • Loving The Height Of Michigan's Trees

    Romney campaigned through Michigan ahead of the state's GOP primary in March, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-michigan-trees_n_1299937.html" target="_hplink">frequently making mention</a> of its foliage. <blockquote>Mitt Romney's last few Michigan stump speeches have included an unusual plank -- his appreciation for the apparently perfect height of the state's trees. "I love this state," he told an audience Tuesday. "The trees are the right height." On Friday afternoon, Romney reprised the comment, saying, "This feels good, being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height."</blockquote> Of course, those comments were just the latest examples of Romney professing his love for the Wolverine State's trees. For more, read the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-michigan-trees_n_1299937.html" target="_hplink">rest of the story</a>.

  • Romney Likes Grits, Y'all

    At a March stump speech in Mississippi, Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-i-like-grits-learning-to-say-yall_n_1334935.html?ref=elections-2012" target="_hplink">explained to primary voters</a> that he had been making attempts to solidify his Southern credentials. <blockquote>Campaigning in Mississippi on Wednesday, Mitt Romney attempted to win over local voters by invoking a beloved regional delicacy. The former Massachusetts governor said during a speech in Pascagoula, Miss., that he is turning into an "unofficial Southerner." He also joked, "I'm learning to say 'y'all' and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me."</blockquote>

  • Packzi Problems

    Romney tried to connect with a Michigan crowd by providing 35 dozen paczkis, Polish jelly doughnuts traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, with flavors including strawberry, rose-hip and prune. But as <em>The Washington Post</em> reports, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/two-michigan-rallies-reveal-romney-santorum-flaws/2012/02/21/gIQA5Sz9ZR_print.html" target="_hplink">the gesture went awry</a>: <blockquote>The Comeback Kid walked out smiling, wearing a button-down shirt and jeans. And immediately messed something up. "By the way, how was the paczkis this morning? Yeah, yeah! That was very good," Romney said. His message: We are not so different, you and I. We have both just eaten the same food! But then Romney began talking about the powdered sugar on the paczki. There was no powdered sugar. The doughnuts were glazed and bare. "Reminded me of what's going on outside," Romney said, comparing the falling snow to a doughnut that people had not eaten. (Had he not really eaten one of the paczki, after all? Had Romney's campaign given the naked doughnuts to the crowd, while Romney was eating upgraded, sugar-dusted ones backstage?)</blockquote> Passing out baked goods is apparently something of a Romney hallmark, per this pool report of his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/21/sc-primary-mitt-romney-ha_n_1220447.html" target="_hplink">foisting Panera on reporters</a> during a flight.

  • A Couple Of Cadillacs

    Mitt Romney tried to woo voters in Michigan when he off-handedly listed the American cars he and his wife owned, but may have instead ended up painting himself as out of touch. "I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles," Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink">said during an economic policy address</a>. "I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually. I used to have a Dodge pickup truck, so I used to have all three covered." Ann Romney's SRXs, retail new for $35,485 to $54,525.

  • $10,000 Bet

    During a December debate, Mitt Romney tried to make a point by challenging rival Rick Perry to a bet over the content of his book, "No Apology." "You've raised that before, Rick, and you're simply wrong," Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/10/mitt-romneys-10000-bet-rick-perry_n_1141387.html" target="_hplink">said</a>. "Rick, I'll tell you what: 10,000 bucks?" He may have been right, but it was the dollar amount that raised eyebrows. $10,000 is <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/WestWingReport/status/145696946579972097" target="_hplink">three months' salary</a> for many Americans.

  • Pink Slips

    During the New Hampshire primary, Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/new-hampshire-primary-romney-rivals-final-appeals_n_1193570.html" target="_hplink">told an audience</a> at a campaign stop that he understood the fear of being fired, and that "there were a couple of times when I was worried I was going to get pink-slipped." Then-opponent Rick Perry mocked the statement, saying, "I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips - whether he'd have enough of them to hand out."

  • Oh, My Goodness!

    At a campaign stop this spring in Derry, New Hampshire, Mitt Romney pulled a gag that raised eyebrows. While posing for a photo with his arms around the waitresses at Mary Ann's Diner, Romney suddenly jumped forward, acting as if someone had pinched his hind quarters."Oh, my goodness gracious!" he exclaimed. The GOP presidential candidate later said he was "just teasing" and the gag is "kind of fun to do."

  • Chrome For The Hollandaise

    During a Granite State visit, Mitt Romney stopped off at Blake's Restaurant in Manchester. On the way out he met with the diner's owner <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2011/06/14/mitt_romney_vs_diners.html" target="_hplink">and cracked this egg</a>: <blockquote>I saw a young man over there with eggs benedict. He had the eggs benedict with a hollandaise sauce and the eggs, there. And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce and hubcaps. Because there's no plates like chrome for the hollandaise!</blockquote> <em>Get it!?</em> The owner laughed politely.

  • Corporations Are People

    At an August rally in Iowa, Mitt Romney attempted to school a heckler by telling him that "corporations are people." "Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are," Romney said, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/11/mitt-romney-heckled-iowa_n_924426.html" target="_hplink">answering a question about entitlement reform</a>. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings my friend."

  • Know Each Other?

    Trying to make small talk with patrons at a New Hampshire diner, Romney asked a married couple sitting in a booth together, "You know each other?" Other Romney conversation nonstarters, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-day-of-awkwardness-with-mitt-romney/2011/06/14/AGApq6UH_story.html" target="_hplink">via The <em>Washington Post</em></a>: <blockquote>To a man wearing a "Joe Gauci Landscaping" T-shirt: "You do some landscaping work?" To two older women who just came from the gym: "Are your knees, hips doing okay?" ... Romney seemed to be auditing one man: "What's happened to your financials the last couple of years?"</blockquote>

  • 'I'm Also Unemployed'

    On the campaign trail in Florida, Romney and a small group of voters discussed unemployment and how to find a job in the struggling economy. The GOP presidential candidate worth more than $200 million chimed in, "I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed." The crowd laughed and asked if he was on LinkedIn. "I'm networking," Romney said, "I have my sight on a particular job."

  • Who Let The Dogs Out?

    In the now-infamous video from Romney's 2008 presidential bid, Mitt is seen meeting with voters at a Martin Luther King Day parade in Florida. After nervously approaching a crowd of youngsters and awkwardly weaving his arm into the huddle, he randomly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/01/22/mitt-romney-who-let-the-d_n_82486.html" target="_hplink">blurted out</a>, "Who let the dogs out? Whoo Whoo!" For the full effect, watch the YouTube video above.

  • Anyone Over 100?

    At a town hall event at a senior center in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney asked the elderly audience if anyone was over 100 years old. The exchange, <a href="http://dailycaller.com/2011/08/25/romneys-awkward-senior-moment/" target="_hplink">via the Daily Caller</a>: <blockquote>"Anybody here over 100 years old?" Romney asked. Crickets. "Not yet, but we're getting there, right? We're on our way," continued Romney. "We're hopefully going to get there soon." "Well, not so soon. We hope to get there safe and sound."</blockquote>

  • Airplane Scuffle With LMFAO Rapper

    In February 2010, Mitt Romney got into a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/15/mitt-romney-threatened-on-plane_n_463322.html" target="_hplink">scuffle on an airplane</a> traveling back from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A Romney spokesman initially told reporters that a passenger became "physically violent" after Romney asked him to move his seat upright for takeoff. Rapper "Sky Blu from the group LMFAO later identified himself as the passenger, saying Romney loudly told him several times to straighten his seat. When Romney reached forward and grabbed Blu's shoulder, the rapper knocked Romney's hand away. <a href="http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1632218/lmfaos-sky-blu-was-other-man-mitt-romneys-plane-fight.jhtml" target="_hplink">From MTV</a>: <blockquote>If Romney had asked nicely, Blu said he might have put his seat up, but since he was so rude ... Well, next thing you know, Blu said Romney reached out and put his hand on his shoulder and asked him again to put his seat up. </blockquote> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/18/mitt-romneys-fight-with-a_n_468407.html" target="_hplink">Blu said</a>, "And I didn't take it any further than that. I just wanted the man not to touch me; that's it."

  • Only $100s

    At a campaign stop in Colorado, Romney mingled with patrons at a Mexican joint in Denver. From <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/romney-sharpens-attack-on-dodd-frank-financial-regulations/2011/06/20/AGPbUwdH_story.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Washington Post</em></a>: <blockquote>At one table, a boy offered Romney a $1 bill that he had folded origami-style for good luck. The candidate happily accepted it, but then rifled through his wallet looking for money to give the boy in return. Romney had a $100 bill, but evidently did not want to give that away. An aide handed him a $1 bill, but Romney said that wasn't enough. Then, deep inside his leather billfold, Romney found a $5 bill. "We'll give you an Abraham Lincoln back," he said, handing it to the boy.</blockquote>

  • A 'Product'

    Mingling with voters at a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mitt-romney-reaches-out-but-often-lacks-common-touch/2011/10/21/gIQAkUVc7L_story.html?hpid=z3" target="_hplink">campaign stop in Iowa</a>, Romney ordered a plate of fried chicken, corn and baked beans. While chatting with the market's owner, Romney, ever the business executive, curiously referred to the meal as a "product."

  • Politicians Get Recognized

    <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/59002.html#ixzz1biat38lC" target="_hplink">Courtesy of Politico</a>, this video shows Romney trying his hand at comedy during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. Romney talks to the crowd about how his four years in politics compare to his 25 years in the private sector, and how politicians get recognized in public. <blockquote>I was in the Newark airport, flying to Boston, and I was reading my newspaper and I heard someone shriek and I looked up and she was pointing at me. She had on a cowboy hat, cowboy boots; she was a Chinese exchange student. I knew she wasn't Texan because she had her jeans tucked into her boots. She pointed at me and she said, 'You're John Kerry!" And I said, "I sure am."</blockquote> For the full act, and the audience non-response, check out the video above.

  • Aloof Plane Flight

    Mitt Romney displayed some particularly aloof behavior when a passenger sitting next to him on a fight to Boston tried to strike up conversation, <em>The New York Times</em> reported Nov. 6. <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/in-flight-romney-is-aloof-with-fellow-passengers/" target="_hplink">From the <em>Times</em></a>: <blockquote>According to Ms. McClanahan, about an hour into the flight -- which Mr. Romney mostly spent reading <em>USA Today</em> and using an iPad while wearing headphones -- she told him her idea for improving the American health care system: slashing overhead costs by switching to an electronic billing system. "He looked at me blankly and said, 'I understand,' then put his iPad headphones in and kept reading," she said.</blockquote> When another passenger asked Romney for a restarauant recommendation in Boston, he told her "I can't give you any .. You'll have to ask someone else," according to the article.

  • Perspired Heavily

    For 15 years Mitt Romney ran the private equity group Bain Capital. The successful financial company earned him millions. <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2007/dec/16/nation/na-mittbain16" target="_hplink">An <em>Los Angeles Times</em> article</a> about Romney's career at Bain painted a picture of the businessman under strain. "In tense meetings, he sometimes perspired so heavily it became an office joke. Or he nervously flapped his tie and said, "Oooohhh, what do we do now?" former colleagues told the paper.

  • The Decision

    When Romney entered the 2008 presidential race, he released a <a href="http://www.myspace.com/video/mittromney/the-decision/16602414" target="_hplink">13-minute video </a>of his family aimed at humanizing him. The video, titled "The Decision," went viral, but not for the reasons Romney wanted. The short film is narrated mostly by his wife Anne Romney, who comes across as charming, personable and engaging, while the rest of the scene gives off a cloying whiff of privilege, cloister and artificiality. Mitt sits down with his family to discuss the pros and cons of running for president, although Anne had already admitted that the decision had basically been made earlier, undermining the conceit of the filmed family gathering. Mitt, apparently unable to behave informally even with his family, whips out a white legal pad to take notes on his family's discussion. "Let me ask: How do you minimize the downsides?" the business executive asks his sons and daughters. Tagg Romney, who suggests he runs, has one warning for his pop: "The country may think of you as a laughing stock."

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