“Um, what’s your view on abortion?” a high and somewhat squeaky voice asked, echoing in the rafters of the old town hall building on one of those too-hot-for-October kind of days.
It was a question Mitt Romney was bound to get more than once during primary season, but what made this query so unusual was that it came from an 8-year-old boy on the eve of a crucial Republican debate.
“That’s a question I did not expect from you, and I’m happy I got it,” said Romney, who at the time was in the middle of fielding questions at a town hall-style meeting in Hopkinton, N.H., his third event of a day he had spent weaving in and out of several small towns in the Granite State. “I am pro-life.”
As the weeks have worn on and Romney, 64, has campaigned across the country, questions posed by the younger members of the audiences have proved time and time again to be among the most interesting, not always for their content but for the humanizing answers they provoke.
A young girl commanded the microphone this week in a university’s cafeteria in Columbus, Ohio, where Romney had come to hold another town hall. “I want to know what you would want to be remembered for,” said the girl, no older than 10, giving her name as Natalie.
Pausing, Romney seemed to gather himself before answering. Natalie, waiting patiently for a response, was probably unaware of the opportunity her question gave Romney to shoot down some of his harshest criticism and show his human side.
“Well, around my home I like to be known as having been a very good father,” he said, beginning to recall a memory of his father, George Romney, to whom he refers frequently on the trail as one of his most important role models.
A few days before the Iowa caucuses, 8-year-old Ben Navratil caught Romney’s eye.
He did, after all, have one of Romney’s campaign stickers plastered across his forehead. “Is it hard running for the president?” Ben asked, sitting in one of the candidate’s largest crowds in Mason City, Iowa.
“That’s a darn good question and the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ It sounds like a politician, I apologize,” Romney said. “The answer is it’s hard in terms of getting up early in the morning, sleeping in a strange bed almost every night, one hotel after the other. We were in a Hampton Inn last night and I don’t know where we are tonight.
“Different hotel in different nights, and sometimes you don’t sleep so well,” Romney added
In Hopkinton, N.H., in January, another young boy asked Romney a question that many people might ask of a person thrusting himself into the public limelight. “Why do you want to go through all the difficulties involved in running for president?” he asked.
Laughing, Romney said, “That is a very good question that you asked me.”
He went on to tell the boy that he is running because he wants to make sure America is “strong and free” when he grows up.
“I will work my heart out and make my oath of office the highest pledge to God that I can make and I’ll keep America strong for you,” Romney told the boy.
Some of the questions posed by kids have been less serious, although just as thought-provoking.
In a packed ballroom on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, Romney had spent nearly an hour taking questions on the state of the economy and the strength of the military, flanked by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
It was a few days before the primary and the Romney campaign was playing offense, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was gaining traction.
A small hand shot up in the crowd and Romney called on the girl, another child no older than 8.
“Thank you for being here Governor Romney,” she began, quite formally. “I was just wondering, I was doing a science project on germs – MRSA specifically – and I was just wondering how many hands do you shake every day and how often do you wash them?”
She had a point. Romney shakes dozens upon dozens of hands every day but has generally managed to ward off illness.
“That’s a very important question,” Romney said, as the overflow crowd relegated to a nearby balcony strained their necks to witness the exchange. “And you’ll be happy to hear that I do wash my hands regularly so that as I shake your hand today you won’t have to worry if the germs I got earlier today in Florida are going to be coming to South Carolina. I wash my hands regularly, and then that, what’s that new … I use that Purell, sanitizer. I use that too just to make sure I don’t pass things along to folks.
“But you know, ” he said, “I appreciate that. That’s a good question.”