MARIETTA, Ohio -– There is one thing that Tagg Romney agrees with MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell on: he has an unfortunate name.
"People ask me all the time is Tagg your real name. Unfortunately it is," Romney, Mitt Romney's oldest son, told a crowd of a little more than 100 people clustered around him in a parking lot here Friday afternoon.
"It's short for Taggart. I wish I could tell you I was named after Dagny Taggart, in Atlas Shrugged. I was not. My parents actually knew someone in college. They didn't even know them that well. His name was Tagg Taggart, they liked it, and they stuck me with it," Romney told the crowd, which laughed and cheered.
O'Donnell, the MSNBC host, made fun of Romney's first name on his show Thursday night, after Romney joked with a radio talk show host earlier this week about wanting to "take a swing" at the president when he watches Obama criticize his father, the Republican nominee for president.
O'Donnell also challenged Romney to take a swing at him, in an over-the-top bit where he stood and gestured to the camera, egging on an imaginary Tagg Romney. Romney told The Huffington Post he hadn't seen the video, but that he had heard about it. As for O'Donnell's comment, Romney said people were making a big deal out of a casual and good-natured joke.
But it is that instinct to defend his father that has driven Tagg and three of his four brothers -– the fifth, Ben, is in a medical residency in Utah and can't take off from work -– to hit the road for the last several weeks of the campaign. Tagg Romney, 42, and his brothers, have spoken openly for months of how their greatest concern in the presidential campaign would be that their father's personality and character would not break through to most voters because of Democratic attacks on him.
"He was raised by his mom and dad that when you do good things for other people, you don't go around bragging about it and toot your own horn. You let those things speak for themselves," Romney told a crowd of about 100 in another small Ohio town, Cambridge, later in the day Friday. "So that's why my brothers and I are on the road, so we can do that for him."
Romney, at both stops here Friday, told multiple stories about things his father has done to help others, spending a lot of time on one story about when Mitt Romney suspended business at his private equity firm, Bain Capital, to mobilize all the people at the company to help look for the missing daughter of one of his Bain colleagues.
And he told the crowds that the biggest difference in the country's perception of his father has resulted from the two presidential debates.
"The reason I think the race shifted so much after that last debate, is because they had done such a good job of creating this fictional character that didn't exist, that when America saw the real Mitt Romney on the stage and listened to him unfiltered from the liberal media, unfiltered from the 30-second attack ads that the Democrats have been running, they said, 'Oh my goodness, this guy's smart, he knows how to get things done and he's a good man too,'" Romney said.
"Ever since then, the momentum has been real," he said.
There is no doubt that the first debate, in Denver on Oct. 3, has had the biggest recent impact on the race. But around that same time, Mitt Romney began to do something he had never done before, which is talk about some of the ways he has helped people personally.
It is, as Tagg Romney said, out of character for the 65-year old former Massachusetts governor to tell these kinds of stories. But they are a tool to humanize him. And there have been press reports that Tagg Romney, in particular, along with his mother, Ann, were a driving force in convincing Romney to start telling the stories.
Politico, in fact, wrote that Ann and Tagg Romney were part of a "Romney rebellion" against top campaign strategists such as Stuart Stevens, who wanted Romney to stay focused on an economic message that emphasized Obama's failures. Politico also wrote that Tagg Romney had taken a more prominent, assertive role in the campaign, and was playing a larger role in determining strategy.
Tagg Romney, in an interview, said that story wasn't accurate.
"It's all Stuart and Beth and Matt and those guys," Tagg Romney said, referring to Stevens and to longtime Romney adviser Beth Myers and campaign manager Matt Rhoades. "I have just been on the road, campaigning for my dad, telling people how good a man he is. I haven't been involved in any strategy meetings or any takeovers or any of that stuff."
"I can tell you, I've only been to headquarters once since the convention. I just haven't had any time to even be in there," he said. "So I think they put two and two together but it wasn't based in fact. It was a fairy tale."
But press reports said Tagg Romney had been at headquarters more over the summer and in September, in the weeks before the debate. And reports that the candidate's son had been more vocal in voicing his opinion to try to resolve disagreements within the campaign, or to shoot down ideas he thought were bad, make sense, since the campaign is run, as one official on the campaign put it, "by committee."
Mitt Romney himself has created a campaign with no one person calling all the shots, and it's often said that the candidate himself is running the enterprise. But the lines of authority appear to be a bit blurry at times, and campaign insiders recognize this is not optimal, but point out that with their poll numbers surging, it's worked out ok.
And of course when Tagg Romney wants to talk to his father, it doesn't take more than a phone call. So while he may just be going, as he said, "wherever they tell me to go" on the campaign trail" –- and he is out on the stump six out of seven days a week now -– he always has the ear of the candidate when and if he wants to bend it.
The spotlight on Tagg is growing brighter now, after the reports of his heightened involvement and his comment about the president. The New Republic published a lengthy profile of him on Friday and he sat down with The New York Times on the campaign bus after his second event in Cambridge.
In his speech to supporters, however, Romney was focused on one thing: getting volunteers energized for the final push over the last three weeks in this crucial swing state.
"We gotta work every day like it's the last day, and we gotta act like we're down by 10 votes," he said.
"The thing about that election in Florida, when we won by only a couple hundred votes out of millions cast, the same thing could happen again here in Ohio. So work like crazy."