VOTE 2012 -- February 29, 2012 at 10:41 PM ET
Romney Sells Business Background, Heart to Ohio Crowd
Mitt Romney speaks during a Feb. 29 campaign rally at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio; photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
BEXLEY, Ohio | There was nothing subtle about Mitt Romney's pitch to Ohio voters Wednesday.
The former Massachusetts governor entered the town hall venue at Capital University in Bexley, just outside Columbus, to the official state rock song of Ohio and Ohio State University anthem, "Hang On Sloopy."
Before introducing Romney, state Senate President Tom Niehaus posed a question that sought to challenge the very core of the crowd: "Are we going to let Michigan beat Ohio?" It was, of course, a reference not just to the famed rivalry but to Romney's narrow victory Tuesday in the Wolverine State, which some Ohioans derisively call "the state up north."
Romney's Michigan win was almost expected, given his long ties to the state (Romney was born and raised there and his father served as the state's governor in the 1960s) and the fact that he won the Republican primary there four years ago. The GOP front-runner does not have those built-in advantages in Ohio.
And while recent polls in the Buckeye State show Santorum with a healthy lead (the latest University of Cincinnati poll had him up 11 percentage points), those who came to see Romney on Wednesday seemed convinced he was the Republican Party's best hope to defeat President Obama.
First-year Capital University law student Zacch Ashcraft said he liked Romney's private-sector experience and has already voted early for the former governor. "It's about time we have a businessman run America," Ashcraft told the NewsHour. "If you stop and think about it, America is a business."
Steven Jorgensen of Gahanna was also sold on Romney's business pedigree. Jorgensen, an unemployed engineer, said he wanted a Republican nominee who would "create new jobs instead of shipping them to China and India like the current president."
Romney routinely sells himself as the Republican best suited to turn around the economy, and Wednesday was no exception. He attributed his wins in Michigan and Arizona to the fact that he talks about "the issue people care most about," while also making sure to note his "25 years of business experience."
And he took a shot at Santorum, calling the former senator a "nice guy," but an "economic lightweight." Romney said to understand how the economy works "takes a lifetime."
But the most noteworthy moment of the hour-long event came when Greg Davis of Mason asked Romney to share some of his life experiences that proved he had "a lot of heart."
In his response, Romney lamented that the campaign process does not always allow voters to get a real sense of who the candidates are, noting heavily controlled settings like debates.
"We stand there all in our suits, you know, we're all wearing white shirts, blue suits ... black shoes, and either a red or blue tie. We all stand there looking somewhat alike and get 60 seconds to answer questions like, 'How do we bring peace to the world?'" Romney said.
"In settings like that, why, people don't get to know you very well," Romney added. "And in settings like this, with questions like that, you can get to know me a little bit better."
Romney went on to talk about his wife ("the most important thing in my life"), his five sons and their families ("Grandkids are fabulous. You don't have to change their diapers and they love you") and his work as a lay pastor for his Mormon church in Boston.
But in the end, even on the matter of heart, Romney brought it back to the economy.
"If I were a doctor and I saw somebody who was obviously suffering from some condition, I would want to do something to help," Romney said. "Well, my experience is not in medicine, my experience is in business. And I think that's what America needs right now."
Davis agreed, telling the NewsHour after the town hall that the answer highlighted Romney's heart, and not just his mind.
Bev Phillips of New Albany also came away impressed, indicating she was "leaning" in Romney's direction more than she had been before listening to him. "Full-time politicians have no concept of what the 'real world' is like," Phillips said.
It appears that at this Ohio stop, Romney found a few takers for his brand of "real world" experience.
Follow Terence on the road in the Buckeye State: @burlij.
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