Fraser Bullock

(Text only) A former Bain Capital partner, he was living in Utah when Mitt Romney took the helm of the scandal-plagued Olympics. Romney convinced Bullock to join him as COO and together they saw the games out of a $400 million hole. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 19, 2012.

(Text only) A former Bain Capital partner, he was living in Utah when Mitt Romney took the helm of the scandal-plagued Olympics. Romney convinced Bullock to join him as COO and together they saw the games out of a $400 million hole. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 19, 2012.

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    Tell me how you first came to know Mitt Romney.

    I joined a company called Bain & Company in 1980. ... I was a lowly consultant just new in the door trying to understand where things happened in the firm and how they got done, and I got to meet Mitt there. And I was just very impressed with his persona, his capability and just this leadership capability in the company.

    So tell me about his reputation at Bain and his leadership style there.

    At Bain & Company, it focuses on leadership capability and the capability to do deep analysis, and Mitt had both skills. He's very impressive when he walks into a room. He carries himself well. He expresses himself incredibly well.

    But then at the same time, the individuals at Bain have to understand how to do analysis, go very deep, take a complex problem, deconstruct it into its components and then put it all back together into a strategy. And Mitt has a very, very analytical mind to able to assess strategy, assess situations and put the pieces back together to coalesce all of the thoughts into a very meaningful communication and strategy for a company. ...

    Looking back at that job, at Bain & Company and then at Bain Capital, what about him made him so successful there?

    Mitt was very successful both at Bain & Company and Bain Capital. It started with leadership, because he was able to put together a vision of what's possible, assemble great people to then execute that vision and then work with them to take each step that needed to happen.

    And Mitt wasn't somebody who was just aloof. He was very much involved in the detail, understanding all of the pieces that fit together to be able to work with the team, advance the cause and ultimately come up with solutions. So great leadership, great participation and great team play were Mitt's great skills.

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    Tell me about the call that you receive from Mitt Romney asking you to join him.

    In early 1999, I was living in Utah, and I, just like everybody in Utah, learned about the scandal of the Olympics. The bribery scandal was so dark and ugly and unfortunate, and it kind of cast a negative tone on everybody in Utah. But then when I heard that they had hired Mitt Romney, I said, yes, now we have a guy who can turn this around and fix it. So I sent him a little email congratulating him. Didn't hear from him, didn't expect to.

    Well, about a month later, I get this phone call, and it's Mitt on the other line, and he's just, "How are you doing?" And then he said: "Well, I'm looking for a chief operating officer. Do you know of anyone?" And I knew exactly what his agenda was, and I said, "Well, you're looking for somebody semi-suicidal," because the situation was so dire, so difficult, that anybody that wanted to do that would face insurmountable challenges.

    So I said, "No, I don't know of anybody, but I'll think about it and get back to you." And then he said, "Well, what about you?" And I said: "Absolutely not. I'm not interested. I'm really happy in my job." And he said: "Well, why don't you come up and visit with me? It's been a while since I've seen you. Why don't you come and see what's going on?"

    And Mitt can be very persuasive. So I went and visited Mitt, and his message was, it's time to be of service, to give back to your community, to give back to your country, and that's what he was doing. So I followed his lead. I followed his example and signed up, and it was a fabulous experience. ...

  3. Ψ ShareThe Games' budget deficit was worse than expected

    Second, it's the media is just inundating everybody about, "Well, what do you know?" And our employees were very discouraged because they were thinking, well, are they going to indict me?

    Third, Mitt did an assessment of the budget and came up with an estimate of $387 million in terms of a budget deficit, and that assumes that we're able to sell almost all of our tickets and everything else, none of which had been sold. I later did a further analysis and found well, you're a little bit low. It's actually $400 million.

    Fourth, you had sponsors who didn't want to have anything to do with the Games, because they don't want to be part of a tainted situation, and so they're kind of going the other direction.

    And then operationally, the plans hadn't been started yet. So there's no operational plan, a huge financial debt, sponsors are flying, Justice Department investigation and employees who are very, very discouraged. You put all of that into a mix, and it was a very, very difficult and dark situation. ...

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    I've read an article and you talked about the importance of federal funding, and you said you were seeking more than I think $183 million in support from the federal government, and they were saying we don't want a tarnished Olympics. So talk to me about that challenge in terms of the federal funding and what you needed in support.

    For any Olympic Games there is federal support, and the federal support comes primarily in the form of security. So there is a collaboration between the federal government and the local and state agencies to put together a robust security plan. One of the things we had to do was go to Washington and work with the various security agencies that were great to work with, to put together a plan that we were all comfortable with. And it wasn't a hard thing to do. They understood their responsibility. We worked through it together and came out with a great solution.

    You talked about the challenge of corporate support to sort of plug the gap, and you said -- I think you termed it Romney sort of calls it the "missionary sale." Tell me that idea and how he got to work.

    One of the big challenges we had was the budget deficit to begin with. And with sponsors not interested in the Games you say, well, how do you solve this problem? Well, you reduce costs and you try to go out and raise money. The sponsor from the Atlanta Games, the previous Games had already been re-upped; and so people were saying, there is nobody else to go to, and we still have a $400 million budget deficit. But Mitt said, no, I'll put together my own team and make it happen.

    He's a man of action. So he put together a small sales and marketing team, four or five individuals, and he and they crisscrossed the country to sign up new Olympic sponsors. Atlanta was the previous high for sponsorship revenues from domestic entities, $460 million. Through Mitt's efforts he set an Olympic record of $840 million of domestic sponsorships. He did it personally with his team, making the calls, door to door and making it happen.

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    Romney as a Leader
    Romney personally donated $1 million to the Olympics

    And do you think that his mission, his skills he learned in France sort of contributed to that perseverance and willingness to go forward?

    Mitt's experience perhaps as a missionary and then throughout his career of knocking on doors and approaching people and asking for things, even at Bain & Company, and approaching corporations and selling them on "Here are the benefits of affiliating with this," he had had a lot of experience in that. And there were tremendous benefits to affiliating with the Olympics, and Mitt used all of that accumulated experience from his life, put it together and did an amazingly effective job at the Olympics.

    He also got tremendous support from some of the families here in the local community. So talk to me about that and how he was able to get the kind of support he did and why.

    So I remember we had this occasion at the Huntsman Cancer Institute where we had this nice dinner and wealthy people were invited to come, and they knew why they were coming is to be asked to donate to the Games to make them work. They knew that our community was in trouble. And so we had everybody there, some Olympians, and Mitt started off by saying, "OK, I will be the first one, and I'll donate $1 million of my own money to the Olympics." And when he did that by leadership, by example once again, everybody started following. And many people in the community stepped forward, and I think we raised about $35 million from donations to the Games, which once again was a record in the Olympic movement.

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    Romney as a LeaderOlympics

    Talk to me about his leadership style, not only at the corporate level but sort of on the ground, and what he brought from his business background, his Bain experience, to that.

    Mitt brought several things to the Olympic Games in terms of leadership skills. One of the first ones was to be able to put together a strategy -- look at the situation; analyze it; where do we have strengths, where do have weaknesses; how do we put those together in a clear, concise strategy of what we're going to do -- and then communicate that to everybody -- to the community, to our sponsors, to the Olympic family, to our employees -- and then put together a plan to execute that vision. And then his other capability adding to that is bringing together a great team of people. ...

    Second, he has the capability of reaching out to different constituent groups around the world. With the Olympics we had people from 83 countries. We had sponsors, we had various people from the Olympic family, we had security agencies, and Mitt had to build relationships with all of those different groups and to be able to address their concerns in a way that made sense for us and for them. So his ability to build bridges, to be able to work with people, was extraordinary.

    And then third, he has deep analytical capability. He loves numbers. One of my roles was chief financial officer, and I would walk in with all kinds of numbers and spreadsheets, and he would be able to take all of that pile of things and look through it very quickly and say: "Here are the three numbers that matter. Let's talk about these; let's focus on these." And he was always right. ...

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    In his book he credited Bain with teaching him that open, honest and direct was a must, and he said he brought that to the Olympics. So tell me how that translated.

    Mitt was very good at total transparency to the media and everybody else; and internally he had this theme of open, honest and direct. And the way that it would manifest itself in our management meetings, for example, I would come forward [with] a recommendation and support it by data, and Mitt would be very good, even though he would agree with me, of taking the other side and challenging me and asking the tough questions to make sure I had [thought] through every little issue.

    What was helpful about that is Mitt just doesn't say, "Yes, that's makes sense." He really tries to analyze things and be open with people and say, "Have you thought about this and that?" It made us all better, because we were more prepared; we thought through the issues; and we knew, "Well, I think Mitt is probably going to ask this question, so we'd better be ready for that."

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    Olympics

    ... As we speak to people here, they describe a very laid-back and accessible and on-the-ground guy during that period of time; that he was kind of everywhere and he was really interacting with people, and everyone felt like they could turn to him. Was that a conscious decision? ...

    When Mitt arrived at the Olympics, it was a very buttoned-up, formal organization, and there were tensions obviously, from the scandal and things like that. Mitt arrived and said: "I just want people to relax a little bit. There is too much tension here." So he changed from business dress to business casual. It sent a message.

    He made himself very accessible to the employees where they didn't have to feel like they were approaching somebody formally, where he would walk the halls and be with people and talk to them. People want to talk to their CEO and have that access. And so he always did that. He has so much energy, it's just unbelievable. I couldn't keep up to him. But he is always out there interacting with people, cracking jokes, smiling and just very accessible.

    People had the feeling that Mitt was their guy. He was not this leader out there somewhere. He was there with them in the trenches working with them, and everybody just loved working with Mitt.

    He talks about starting each meeting with a joke. ... Tell me about his joke telling. Is there one that sort of sticks out in your memory?

    Mitt, he really did try to lighten up every meeting. So there was a rule we had where we had to start the meeting with a joke, and very few people had jokes. So Mitt would reach into his bag of tricks and come up with all of these jokes. And I'm not sure how many of them were actually good -- that's why I can't remember any -- but it did lighten up the meeting.

    But the other thing is he's got a very quick wit, where you're talking about something, a very serious problem, and all of a sudden Mitt just pulls one out of his hat and says something that just gets everybody rolling in laughter. And it was just a fun organization to be part of because of that.

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    Thrifty by nature, Romney sold pizza slices at board meetings for a profit

    Despite his personal wealth and success, he was quite thrifty. Talk to me about the way that that translated and some of the rules that were imposed.

    I never saw the true nature of Mitt's thriftiness until we were at the Olympics. When we got there, there was a $400 million budget deficit, so something had to change, and he sent a message very quickly. His first board meeting where he was in charge of the board meeting, everything changed.

    Previous to that, we would have an elaborate lunch with flowers and all catered and everything, because we had our board meetings at lunchtime. The first one that Mitt is in charge of, it's Domino's Pizza, and it's a dollar a slice, because he knew he could buy a pizza for $5, cut it into eight pieces and make $8. So he would turn what was a cost center into a profit center. That sent a message to everybody in the organization that we watch every single penny. And it wasn't just in that instance. It was everything he did he communicated that these are precious resources that we have to be very, very careful with, and he's incredibly frugal. ...

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    Olympics

    ... He came out early and said, "These are not the Mormon Games." Talk to me about the reason behind him saying that and the significance of that message.

    One of the things that Mitt did very well throughout his Olympic experience was making sure that everybody in the community was involved. And there were some in the community that said, "Well, are these going to be the Mormon Games, because Mitt is Mormon?" And Mitt went out of his way to make sure that everybody knew that that was not true, because there sensitivities in this particular community around that issue.

    One of the things he did was he established an interfaith council, people from all faiths coming together to advise us in the Olympics of how should we look at faith as a part of what we're doing to impact the community through the Olympics, and that institution continues today.

    So Mitt went out of his way to reach out to everybody. Whether it's Native Americans, whether it was the constituent group of the homeless people, he tried to make sure that everybody felt they had input into what we were doing and making sure there was a balance between all of these constituent groups, including the Mormon Church and people of other faiths.

    He talks in his book about it being one of the first times in his life that he was confronted with prejudice toward his religion. Did he talk to you about that? Because he writes about it and how surprising that was to him and what it forced him to recognize.

    Outside of Utah, the issue of Mormon versus non-Mormon is not much of an issue out there. People just go about their work. I've lived outside of Utah most of my life. But here it's a little sensitive, because people know that there is a large LDS [Latter-Day Saints] or Mormon population, and they want to make sure that there is not too much control. And so the LDS Church goes out of its way to make sure it's balanced.

    So Mitt walked into that situation really unaware or not fully having the history of that context. So he was surprised and said: "What's the issue here? We're going to listen to everybody. The LDS Church isn't going to run the Games. They're going to help us, but everybody else is going to help us, too." So for him it was a little bit of an introduction into that situation, and he then went out of his way to dispel it.

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    ... Talk to me about what was going on in his personal life and about Ann's diagnosis.

    When Mitt joined the Olympics, I can only guess at the pressure that was on him, because here he had built this firm, Bain Capital, and in a period of just a few weeks he's now going to exit that firm. Now he's taking on this massive situation at the Olympics, which is in a very troubled situation. And then just recently before that his wife, Ann, was diagnosed with MS [multiple sclerosis], and it weighed very heavily on his mind.

    He did not talk about it publicly at all, just a little bit so that people would understand the context of what he was going through. But privately he talked about Ann all of the time. His heart went out to her. He just -- "How are we going to [work through] this? How are we going to struggle through this? We've just left our home, come all the way across the country; we're alone, we're here; and I'm working this hard job; and I've got Ann back at home who is ill."

    She was on his mind all of the time. He didn't show it, but his deep caring for her always came through when I was talking him. And I'd say, "How is Ann doing?" "Well, not so well." "How are you handling that?" "Well, we're working through it." But you could see the personal side of Mitt and how much he deeply cared for Ann.

    Talk to me about that relationship. ...

    With Mitt and Ann, it's really just an amazing companionship. Ann is incredibly bright. She's very wise, and she and Mitt engage in very deep dialogues and conversation all of the time. So it's a really interesting situation to watch. And then they always want to be together. They just have this deep affection for each other, an emotional connection, a loving connection, an intellectual, a spiritual connection. It's really, really unique.

    But then they made the Olympic connection, where both of them really didn't have a connection to the Olympics. But through the experience, through going through a very difficult situation and having really a tremendous success at the end of that effort where they went through that together, the Olympics now are one of their favorite things in their lives that they like to do. ...

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    On Sept. 11, he was down in Washington, D.C., at the time talking about funding, and you get a phone call. Tell me about that moment.

    We had spent about two and a half years working out of a very, very deep hole economically, image-wise, from every aspect on the Olympics. And I remember going into Mitt about six months before the Games and said: "I think we're going to hit this one out of the park. We're ready." And Mitt said: "OK, just keep your head down. Let's keep working."

    Then I remember the morning of 9/11 receiving a phone call from Mitt moments after he had driven past the Pentagon after it had been hit and just hearing the emotion and distress in his voice of how could this happen to our country? So many lives lost and the individual and family tragedies that were part of that. Mitt is very patriotic, and this hurt him deeply, personally.

    Then our conversation turned to the Olympics, and [he said]: "In less than five months we're going to host the world, hundreds of thousands of people. The Olympics have been targets of terrorist attacks in the past. How are we going to keep everybody safe?" So we started strategizing on that phone call how we were going to move forward, how we were going to make sure we had the most robust security plan working with all of the security agencies so that people could come to the Games in confidence.

    He came back here, and he gathered the troops, and he spoke to them. Were you there for that?

    Yes.

    Tell me about that moment.

    So the week of 9/11, Mitt was back in Washington. He was trying to get back. All transportation had been shut down. He managed to get back on Thursday. ...

    He immediately assembled the entire staff, and we went outside in this plaza where Mitt expressed his own personal feelings relative to the horrific tragedy our country experienced, but then expressing how these Games now in 2002 would be even more important to provide a healing opportunity for our country and perhaps even the world, and that we needed to do our absolute best, but also using that opportunity for everybody to heal a little bit, because everybody was feeling so much pain. And then he led us in "God Bless America." He's deeply patriotic. And I can still visualize it today where everybody is just -- you could hear a pin drop while he's speaking and then being able to gather as a group, an Olympic family, together. ...

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    ... We've talked about Ann's illness. She runs the torch ultimately, at the end. And so in the context of that time, tell me about watching that moment and what that meant to them.

    One of the things that Mitt as a donor was able to do was designate somebody to run the torch a leg of the torch relay, and he designated his sweetheart, Ann. He didn't take that slot for himself. He gave it to his wife. And it was I believe the day before Opening Ceremonies, and so to have Ann surrounded by her family, somebody who had been afflicted with multiple sclerosis but who had improved substantially through this time of the Olympics, to be able to culminate the work of years and celebrate that moment together as a family was a very, very special time for them.

    Is that fair to say that family is sort of at the center of who he is?

    Yes, Mitt is largely defined in a big part of his life by his family. That means everything to him. And during the Olympics we would have some of his sons come by, and not all of them were married then, and who are they dating, and who might they marry. It was just a lot of fun. A lot of his persona in terms of prankster and cracking jokes had rubbed off on his kids, so they're just a blast to be around. When the Romney clan gets together, it's just a lot of entertainment and a lot of fun and just a great thing to see.

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    How did Sept. 11 raise the stakes for you all, and what were the new challenges ahead?

    After 9/11, we had tremendous issues to deal with. First of all, there were teams, sponsors and many others who were threatening to withdraw from the Games. We had countries who said: "Well, we don't think you can keep us safe. We're not inclined to come." So one of the things that Mitt had to do was reassure all of these groups, "Yes, we will keep you safe, and we will do the right things that you will feel comfortable."

    Second of all, he worked with the security agencies, as did all of us. But he led that effort to make sure that the appropriate funding was there and the resources were there to be able to keep all of the people safe who would be coming. So he gained great experience in working with the security agencies and understanding the issues, and being able to put together a plan with them that worked very effectively. ...

    I remember the night of Opening Ceremonies where we had worked for years. We had gone through a scandal; we had gone through 9/11. And the impact on us -- and here we have Opening Ceremonies; and there is Mitt with the president of the IOC [International Olympic Committee], President Bush all standing at attention while the flag from the Twin Towers is brought in. Some of us thought there might be this big cheering. Instead, it was dead silence, a reverence as the flag is being carried in by eight U.S. Olympians. And then everybody rising to attention and engaging and singing the national anthem was an incredibly emotional moment for all of us. Thinking back to 9/11, and then going through the experiences and seeing it all culminate in Opening Ceremonies with the flag of the Twin Towers, was one time that I'll never forget. ...

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    ... What's your assessment of the role that he played in the success of those Games?

    Mitt would the first to give everybody else the credit, and he does that a lot. He said, "Well, Fraser did this," or, "This person did that." But we all know who are there that it took somebody of Mitt's caliber, leadership capability to be able to drive this forward through all kinds of difficulties that culminated in Closing Ceremonies, when he received from the president of the IOC the Olympic quarter in gold as a token of his great work and his great leadership that made a marvelous success out of the Games.

    He became sort of the public face of the Olympics as well, with the pins and "What would Mitt do?" Talk to me about that sort of role that he took on publicly and why that was so important.

    One of the things that Mitt does extraordinarily well is he is able to communicate with third parties, the media, everybody else. The rest of us had so much work to do, that's the last thing we wanted to do is talk to the media or everybody else. So Mitt took on the role of taking all of that burden off of us, which was great. We just had to put our heads down and work.

    He was such a great communicator and telling people, very transparently, "Here are the great things we've done. And guess what? We messed up over here. We just wanted you to know that we're not perfect." And he was just great at letting people see a figurehead that they could connect to and build confidence in, whether it was sponsors or the IOC or different groups, that they had to have somebody that they could look to and say, "OK, he's the leader of this very important effort," and Mitt did a superb job.

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    Mitt learned how to do the skeleton ... head first at 70 m.p.h.

    And tell me about the skeleton.

    One of the things that Mitt wanted to do was experience some of the Olympic sports to get the view of what the Olympics is like, so one of the things that he participated in or learned was the skeleton.

    The skeleton is a terrifying sport. You go down the bobsleds track on a sled head first. And typically Mitt could go up to 70 miles an hour, and this is down a track with 15 turns, 90 degrees. So you can just think, you're going 70 miles an hour, and you have a 90-degree turn.

    So Mitt learned how to do that. I was stunned, because I was too terrified to go. He went, showed his bravery, and was actually filmed doing that, the skeleton down the track on one of the morning shows. And I was just amazed that he was able to do that. ...

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    Romney as Governor

    In early 2002, the buzz starts about "What's Mitt going to do next?" Talk to me about the conversations that he had with you about that and what he was thinking.

    I remember about a year before the Games talking to Mitt and saying, "Well, what are we going to do, because we fire everybody, including ourselves, at the end of the Olympics?" And he said: "Well, maybe I'll get back into the private equity business and start a smaller fund. I'm not quite sure." But then he said, "Let's just put our heads down, let's work hard, get this right, and the future will take care of itself." And so he had no definitive plans a year out from the Games.

    But then fortuitously, I think about a month or two before our Games were held, the situation changed in Massachusetts, where a door came open for him that he didn't expect to be able to run for governor. And so really that last month he started thinking about, "Wow, what do I do next?" We were all thinking about that: "What do I do next?" And during that period of time he did decide to run for governor of Massachusetts. But prior to that, he was just focused on the Olympics, doing them right, and the future would take care of itself.

    And why do you think he chose to go back into politics instead of going back into private equity? He had just had this difficult period and this great success, and Bain was waiting for him, yet he went in another direction. Why?

    I think what happened to Mitt during the Olympics is he recognized that his business career had been very successful and enabled him to be of service. And so at that point forward he's just trying to be of service to his community, his country, his family, and that's all his energy and focus. So going back into private equity, he didn't need to make any more money or anything. He certainly could have. But for him what was important was giving back and just being of service in any way that he could. ...

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    I am curious to get your opinion about this whole idea of his position at Bain and whether or not he was still working for them while he was here. No one is closer to him than you were during that period of time. So tell me the reality there.

    The reality, when Mitt joined the Olympics, it's a 24/7 job, and it requires all of your attentions. We were working like crazy. Now, Mitt had built Bain Capital, and he had to leave it very quickly. He had to tie up loose ends: who's going to be in charge, because Mitt was in charge; and how is governance going to work, and all of these transitional elements. And so of course, he would have to [make] phone calls and work out the details of transition and things like that. And so while that's being worked out, of course he would hold titles and things like that, because that's not something that happens overnight.

    In terms of day-to-day management of their portfolio companies, no, no involvement at all. He had a full-time job at the Olympics and more. ...

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    Romney's Core Nature

    It sounds like he's a man that has tremendous confidence in his own abilities. Is that fair to say?

    Mitt has confidence in his capability to put together a plan and a team to be able to do whatever needs to be done, whether it's a turnaround or a situation that's in dire straits. He knows he can't do it himself, but he knows there has to be a leader, and he knows that he's done that many times in the past, and he feels confident and capable of doing it again, not by himself, but with a great team of people working with him. ...

    ... Having seen the man during this period of time that he ran the Olympics, that the local community was rallied around and felt like they knew him, and he was one of them, why do you think we don't see more of that Mitt Romney on the campaign trail?

    One of the things that's troubling to me is that I know Mitt, and he's warm, he's personable, he's fun, and it doesn't come across on the media. One of the reasons is people look for these little sound bites and picking apart this word or this sentence and things like that. Instead, they should spend time with him just to see how he is with his family, with his friends, and they'll see a side of Mitt that is very inspiring, that's very warm, that's very endearing even. And that's the tragedy that I've seen over the coverage of the campaign is we have not seen that side of Mitt. I hope that it comes out. ...

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