Romney Announces Bid For Presidency
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The Republican frontrunner for president announced today, and perhaps the least surprising political news of the week, that he's actually running. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, finally made it official at a farm in New Hampshire.
It's hard to know if this change is anything about the race. Romney already has a slight lead in the polls for the Republican nomination, and he's already raising more money than the other candidates. Given that today's announcement has long been expected, we challenged NPR's Robert Smith to find at least seven surprising things about it.
ROBERT SMITH: OK. Surprise number one: There are still New Hampshirites that are undecided about Mitt Romney, which is strange because he basically never stopped running for president after the 2008 election. He's been in New Hampshire frequently over the last four years, but still, voters here trumped across farm fields in Stratham to see the man once again.
Frank Boodleman(ph) still isn't sure.
Mr. FRANK BOODLEMAN: I heard what he had to say the last time he ran for president, and it wasn't anything surprising. If he doesn't get a little angrier, if he doesn't get a little more passionate, he's not going to get ahead of Barack Obama.
SMITH: As if on cue, who should come wondering through the crowd but surprise number two, the new improved casual Mitt Romney.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Former Governor, Massachusetts): Isn't this fabulous? Boy, what a scene this is. It doesn't get better than this, does it? Hi. How are you?
Unidentified Man: Good.
SMITH: Of course, he wasn't going to wear a jacket and a tie to a working farm, but for those of us who covered the last election, it is jarring to see him without it.
In 2008, Romney always looked like the hedge fund Ken doll that people said he was too plastic, too phony, too inauthentic. So now, Mitt Romney has officially unbuttoned his top button, and he works the crowd with a little more personality.
Mr. ROMNEY: How are you?
Unidentified Woman #1: Hi.
Mr. ROMNEY: Who's this beautiful woman you're with?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, we're not together.
Mr. ROMNEY: Oh.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Woman #2: Hi.
SMITH: This sets the tone for surprise number three. Mitt Romney launches a kinder, gentler attack on President Obama. Of course, any Republican candidate announcing a run for president is going to criticize Mr. Obama, but Romney started his speech by identifying with those who had voted for the president.
Mr. ROMNEY: A few years ago, Americans did something that's really quite American in its nature. It's the sort of thing we like to do. We gave someone new a chance to lead the country. And when Barack Obama came to office, we wished him well and hoped for the best.
SMITH: OK. You knew where this going. But it's worth noting that it is the nicest thing a Republican has said about the president in months, and it lasted about 10 more seconds.
Mr. ROMNEY: Barack Obama has failed America.
Unidentified Man: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah.
(Soundbite of applause)
SMITH: And Romney went on to count the ways, but surprise, surprise, in fact, surprise number four, Mitt Romney was able to talk about his own perceived failures too.
Mr. ROMNEY: Of course, if I ran through a list of all my mistakes this afternoon, you'd be here all night.
SMITH: But he wasn't ready to say that his most controversial decision was one of those mistakes. He's widely criticized in the Republican Party for the Massachusetts health care law that he passed as governor. It included mandates that required residents to buy insurance. Some find it uncomfortably close to President Obama's plan. Romney tried to recast his health care law as a heroic move to save money in the budget.
Mr. ROMNEY: I took on this problem and hammered out a solution that took a bad situation and made it better. Not perfect but it was a state solution to our state's problem.
(Soundbite of applause)
SMITH: We'll be hearing a lot more about Romney and health care, but at least today, that was surprise number five. Romney ended with the news that everyone already knew that he was running for president. And then, we're not sure why, but his campaign blasted a song about passionate loving: "Rock Me Baby" all night long.
(Soundbite of song, "Rock Me Baby")
Mr. B.B. KING (Musician): (Singing) I want you to love me till you make me satisfied.
SMITH: That is surprise number six, and also surprise number seven if you count the chili. Everyone in the crowd got a bowl of Ann Romney's famous chili: very healthy chicken, white beans, not too spicy.
And speaking of the fire in the belly, how did our voter, Frank Boodleman, find the new and improved Romney?
Mr. BOODLEMAN: I heard what I expected but no more - no less. I'll tell you what. I will vote for whoever can defeat the man who's in there now. I don't know who that is yet.
SMITH: A skeptical New Hampshire voter? No big surprise.
Robert Smith, NPR News, Stratham, New Hampshire.
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