Step Right Up, Romney’s on the Rope Line

Winslow Townson/AP Photo

MANCHESTER, N.H. — As the old saying goes, it can’t hurt to try.

And when it comes to Mitt Romney trying to guess the age of his supporters on the rope line after his events, try he does. Again and again and again.

After a town hall in Peterborough, New Hampshire, last week, Romney was approached by a teenager who, like many supporters after events, wanted to shake his hand and get his autograph.

“What are you, you’re 16, 17, 18?” Romney asked, making small talk as he so often does.

“15,” the boy answered.

“15? Wow, you’re big for 15. Don’t grow anymore!” joked Romney.

Like all the candidates, Romney puts aside time to mingle with voters after nearly every event, knowing those who feel they’ve shared a personal moment with him are more likely to vote in his favor. But meeting hundreds of strangers a day takes a toll on anyone, and small talk can become burdensome even to professionals.

Last week, a toddler in his father’s arms who was waiting to greet Romney outside of an event became a participant in the age-game. Romney, a grandfather of 16, always makes time to greet his youngest supporters, even when his staffers are encouraging him to leave the event.

“Is he 3? Are you 3?” asked Romney, shaking the toddler’s tiny hand and chuckling. “Oh he’s 2? He wants to be 3.”

It is this sort of guessing game which has come to consume much of the time Romney spends interacting with supporters. Romney has been known to guess whether a couple who approaches him are married and what the origin of someone’s name is.

During his stump speech, Romney, forever trying to prove that he’s not a “career politician,” will often quip, “I only spent four years as governor, I didn’t inhale.” The joke consistently returns big laughs from the crowd.

But most of Romney’s best material comes during the off-the-cuff moments. While these raw exchanges — and sometimes downright misunderstandings — can fall flat, they usually garner laughter.

“Are those your kids right there?” Romney asked one couple at a recent event.

“No,” said the couple, as the kids, looking slightly intimidated, shook their heads in agreement, before they all posed for a photograph together.

Romney isn’t the only candidate who deals with the unusual perils of meeting complete strangers at the end of long days, often searching for something to say to connect with them.

Herman Cain, at a recent campaign stop in Michigan, asked one young boy named Benjamin if Franklin was his middle name. When the child said that it wasn’t, Cain asked, “Do you get that stupid question a lot?”

Staring back at the candidate, the boy said that he did not.