Romney's response was the kind of answer his campaign staff has been encouraging him to undertake on the trail for months — a reply that not only acknowledged a voter's question but also pivoted to reveal something personal about his own life. The former Massachusetts governor has long been dogged on the trail by criticism that he's too stiff and formal to connect with voters, and aides have worried that Romney's awkwardness won't just hurt him in the Republican primary but also as a general election candidate against President Obama.
But as he has traveled throughout Wisconsin seeking votes ahead of Tuesday's primary, Romney has tinkered with his usual banter with voters, dropping anecdotes about his wife, Ann, or their five sons into random questions that aren't always family centered in hopes of humanizing his candidacy.
At a town hall in Milwaukee Tuesday, a voter asked a rambling question about Eagle Scouts and their ability to camp on public lands. Romney explained he was unfamiliar with a land dispute the voter mentioned, but used the moment to talk about his sons and joke about his own parenting skills.
"I was not an Eagle Scout…but I have three sons who were Eagle Scouts. Now you know I have five, and the first two didn't get Eagles and the reason for that is mom and dad didn't know how important it was for mom and dad to help them in the process of becoming Eagle Scouts," Romney said, as the audience broke into a smattering of applause and laughter. "But we learned after the first two and got it right for the next three."
Romney told the audience he "loved" the Eagle Scouts because of the principals it had instilled in his kids, including love of country and personal responsibility—two things, he said, that influenced his own decision to serve the country.
A few minutes later, in response to a question of why he had decided to run for president, Romney used the moment to talk about his wife, Ann, and the tough times they had weathered, including her battle with multiple sclerosis.
"I fell in love with her in high school, and I am still passionately in love with that woman," Romney declared. The audience applauded approvingly.
It was a side of Romney that his staff and even his family have encouraged him to reveal on the stump, but it's been difficult because Romney, aides say, feels uncomfortable talking about himself. The campaign has solved the problem by pairing Romney on the stump with his wife—who makes her husband feel at ease and often brings out his lighter side in their talks with voters. But his family and staff have encouraged Romney to branch out on his own so that Ann Romney can be deployed as a campaign asset elsewhere.
It seems the advice isn't just coming from those closest to him. At two different stops on Monday, Romney casually mentioned he had gotten an email over the weekend from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker encouraging him to talk more about his experience shepherding the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"He sent me an email and said, you ought to do that more often," Romney explained in Green Bay. And so, he told the crowd, he would.
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