Perry vs. Romney at retail level politics
When Rick Perry popped in for popovers at a Portsmouth, N.H., cafe recently, he cheerfully dismissed the bevy of protesters awaiting him and the two women haranguing him about Social Security. He handled the skeptics with aplomb, grinning at the hecklers and displaying a self-assured ease with everyone from the littlest of children to the angriest of voters.Perry is at ease in a crowd. I suspect that some of it comes from his experience as an Aggie Yell Leader. Most politicians do not have that much practice performing before audiences of several thousand, some of which are probably hostile. It may make a difference in the early states where retail politics is required.
Biting into a warm maple-buttered pastry, he offered a piece to his wife, undeterred by the man shouting, “Let them eat cake, Governor Perry!”
A week later Mitt Romney trod some of the same ground, encountering dissenters of his own at a town hall-style meeting here.
“You’re not the boss of me, as my kids used to say!” Mr. Romney said, to laughter, quibbling with the way one man characterized his views on climate change.
The Republican presidential battle is still young, but two weeks spent on the campaign trail with the candidates polls show atop the pack offered a striking contrast: Mr. Perry seems to relish interaction with crowds, even in unfamiliar territory like New Hampshire, while Mr. Romney sometimes seems like a work in progress, improving almost daily as he tries to engage voters.
Aides to Mr. Romney say that he has substantially evolved since his 2008 bid, and that Mitt 2.0 is a more relaxed, confident version of the man voters met then. At a jobs forum in Exeter, N.H., on Thursday, Mr. Romney offered a rousing speech — bringing the audience to applause several times and joking easily with voters — that ended in a standing ovation.
While voters in these challenging times look for more than surface connections as they make their choices, these close-up impressions in early nominating states do matter. They may be especially important at a moment when, at least in perception if not necessarily in reality, Mr. Perry is threatening to overtake Mr. Romney as the perceived front-runner.
Mr. Romney is still struggling to overcome his initial caricature as a stilted, awkward and perfect-to-the-point-of-imperfect candidate, and some note progress.
Still, Mr. Romney sometimes barks rather than speaks his small talk — his hearty “Ha! Ha!” sounds less like a laugh than like someone speaking the sound of laughter — and he seems loath to emote. He is more of a “Gosh, isn’t that something?” guy than an “I feel your pain” man in the tradition of Bill Clinton. His attempts at banter and casual conversation sometimes seem just a notch off.
Travis Waldron, a reporter who was tracking the candidates for ThinkProgress.org, a liberal Web site, spent a week bouncing between the candidates. He found that Mr. Perry favored perfectly tailored pinstriped pants, with a crisp white shirt and a tie, while Mr. Romney often wore jeans or khakis with an open-collared button-down shirt. But despite Mr. Perry’s more formal sartorial choices, Mr. Waldron marveled that he seemed more confident and at ease than Mr. Romney. The Texas governor just rolls in to events, he explained, exuding an air of “Yeah, I’m wearing pinstripes and Lone Star cuff links. This is who I am.”
At the fiery town hall here, Mr. Romney showed flashes of feistiness, but he also found himself sparring with voters like a priggish crossing guard.