Mitt Romney Has Some Down-to-Earth Tastes, He’d Like You to Know

September 22, 2011

By , The New York Times

Like the stars in Us Weekly, Mitt Romney wants voters to know that he is just like them.

Mr. Romney has tried the new $4.39 Carl’s Jr. jalapeño chicken sandwich (“delicious”), celebrated the Reagan Library debate with fast-food burgers and fries (again, Carl’s Jr.), and dug into a Subway flatbread sandwich while sitting in an airport terminal (“better than the usual campaign diet of morning donuts”).

These are all moments that he and his campaign have made a point of sharing with the public over Twitter. He has also taken a lot of flights on Southwest, an airline known for its low fares and primary-color planes, and made sure to tweet about it and name-check Southwest at every opportunity.

“I was on a flight this morning, a Southwest flight from Phoenix to, let’s see, to Burbank, and — no, it was to Orange County,” Mr. Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview last Friday.

In recent weeks, Mr. Romney’s renovation of his $12 million home in the La Jolla section of San Diego has reinforced the fact that he is a wealthy man, forcing his campaign to work harder to avoid the implication that he is out of touch with the concerns of working people. (His quip in June to a group of jobless people in Florida that he, too, was unemployed did not help on that front.) Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Mr. Romney’s main competitor at the moment, is conspicuously trying to draw a contrast between his own roots (humble) and Mr. Romney’s (less so).

Mr. Romney, meanwhile, has begun something of a self-initiated product-placement regimen in his campaign — to sometimes awkward effect — branding himself with less-than-luxury everyman labels.

His effort, and the response to it, highlight a vexing problem for Mr. Romney. Although he is becoming increasingly confident and relaxed on the campaign trail, he still sometimes appears as if he is trying too hard to connect, straining to show that even his perfectly coifed hair can fall out of place. Sparring with voters at town-hall-style meetings, he can come off as a scolding crossing guard, and some of his efforts at humor — like the time he pretended that a waitress in a New Hampshire diner had pinched his bottom — have fallen notably flat.

But to aides and friends of Mr. Romney, the situation is more complicated. They say this — the Southwest flying, self-deprecating, penny-pinching guy — is the real Mitt, the one they know in private, and if anything, he just wants a little public credit for some of the “regular dude” things he has always done.

Ron Kaufman, a longtime Romney adviser, recalled a moment in the 2008 presidential campaign, after Mr. Romney had withdrawn from the race and was in his Boston headquarters, helping to wind down his campaign. Senator John McCain of Arizona, to whom Mr. Romney had thrown his support, happened to be in Rhode Island campaigning that day and had offered to come up to Boston to meet with Mr. Romney. But Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he was not free, because he already had a flight booked to visit his son in California.

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