Sept. 21, 2012— -- Mitt Romney appeared on Univision's "Meet the Candidate" event on Wednesday evening to talk about issues of importance to Latino voters, including immigration, education and foreign policy. But thousands of bloggers, Facebook subscribers and Twitter users across the country focused more on the candidate's complexion than on his message.
Some called it an orange spray tan, others labeled it "brownface," but the conjecture was the same. Social media platforms were abuzz on Wednesday with the insinuation that the GOP candidate had somehow darkened his skin before coming on Univision's forum. The accusation was reported on by The Huffington Post, Gawker and Wonkette, among others, receiving thousands of comments on the sites combined. Here at ABC/Univision, we wanted to clear the air a bit and find out what really happened.
So we asked the man who saw it first hand -- makeup artist Lazz Rodriguez, who applied powder and concealer to the candidate's skin that night. The verdict?
"When he walked in, I remember thinking, 'Wow this is tanner than I thought he was,' but I think he's just been outside a lot lately for his campaign," Rodriguez noted. "It was definitely a real tan."
Rodriguez has been a makeup artist for 25 years, and has applied cosmetics to hundreds of famous faces, including many celebrities and politicians, and a handful of presidents.
"Clinton was definitely the fairest-skinned of politicians I've worked with," he said. "But Romney was a lot darker than I expected," he said.
Rodriguez says that his makeup of choice for the evening was MAC NW30, a medium-range loose powder that he applies to "cut the glare" of stage lights.
The ABC/Univision News team decided to investigate the claims that Romney was wearing powder that was too dark, stopping in at the local Miami MAC store after Thursday's "Meet the Candidate" event with Obama to test out the exact make and model. Indeed, we concluded after various trials that the NW30 was a medium-ranged hue that looked natural on a range of beige skin tones. The color was perhaps a tad too dark on Politics Editor Jordan Fabian, just about right on reporter Julia Saenz, and a shade too light on Miami-boy and Managing Editor Fernando Rodriguez-Vila. But, even when we caked the stuff on, NW30 wasn't notably dark on a range of skin tones under harsh lights.
Rodriguez says that after hearing of the controversy, he spent time looking up pictures of the candidate online, and noticed that he had been tan days prior to the event -- even at his press conference in regards to the controversial "47 percent" remarks. Romney had indeed been travelling in sunny states in the weeks before the Univision event, stopping in Pueblo, Colorado, on Sunday; Los Angeles, California, on Monday; and Texas on Tuesday.
But many criticized the candidate for the tan, saying it was unique to his Univision appearance. Wonkette wrote, "So! Self-tanner 'accident'? Makeup lady that needs firing? Or did John Boehner take him tanning for a little pick-me-up? He has been having a very hard week."
Yohana de la Torre, the director of specialty media for the Romney for President campaign, declined to say why the candidate was notably tan, but said that the conversation over Romney's skin tone obscures more important issues in the campaign.
"Mitt Romney is worried about the 23 million people out of a job and an unemployment rate that has been above 8% for more than 42 consecutive months," she said in a statement to Univision. "The media, on the other hand, is interested in make-up jobs and not how long it's been since the President has met with his Jobs Council."
"It's time to focus on the real issues," she added.
The insinuations that the candidate had previously spray tanned or that the makeup hue was to blame are both incorrect, Rodriguez, the makeup artist, said.
"What they [bloggers and commenters] have done is all a bit sad to me," Rodriguez said, noting that the GOP candidate was very amicable in person.
"I also don't want this to jeopardize a career I've worked so hard to build in this field," he said. "He was tan from being out in the sun on the campaign trail -- that's the only possible explanation."