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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / City & Region
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New ads, 'work days' show down-to-earth candidate

By Rick Klein, Globe Staff, 9/26/2002

As photos of their wedding and their children flash by, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, stare straight at the camera in a new television ad and tenderly describe their first date and falling in love.

Ann recalls Mitt pulling up in ''some goofy-looking car'' and says that they ran out of gas on the way home from their first date. And when Mitt went off to college, he says, he took a job as a night security guard in college so he could fly home on weekends to spend time with Ann without his parents' knowledge.

Like his campaign events slinging fish in New Bedford and working with a Big Dig crew in Boston, it's part of the Romney campaign's efforts to portray the candidate as an ''everyman'' who can relate to the problems facing average voters. The Republican venture capitalist, who was born into a wealthy family in an affluent suburb of Detroit, has identified this as an important theme as he tries to overcome the economic gap between him and ordinary wage-earners - crucial voters for him to attract in the gubernatorial race.

Now, Democrats are rushing to point out what Romney doesn't say in the ad - that car he was driving, an AMC Marlin, was made by the company that his father headed up. And he would have had to work nearly nonstop at that security job to afford regular weekend flights from California to Michigan without some extra help.

''He and his campaign obviously think we're all stupid,'' said Philip W. Johnston, chairman of the state Democratic Party. ''He's a wealthy, privileged guy who ought to admit it.''

Democrats are trying to stop Romney at every turn to remind the public of his wealth. At Tuesday night's debate, Shannon O'Brien attacked him for not releasing records of his income taxes - records that would show just how wealthy Romney has become. And when Romney's latest ad debuted, the O'Brien campaign fired off a news release entitled ''Romney Actually Drove Cool Car,'' saying that the AMC Marlin that Romney called ''kind of awful'' in the ad was billed as a ''personal luxury car'' and was new when Romney drove it in 1965.

''The fact that Mitt Romney was embarrassed by his brand new car shows just how out of touch with regular working people he is - and always has been,'' said Adrian Durbin, O'Brien's campaign spokesman. ''Anyone who would complain about having to drive a brand new luxury car while in high school surely doesn't understand the problems most people face.''

Romney made light of the AMC Marlin criticism earlier this week at a luncheon held at the Westin Copley Hotel to highlight his support among women. He described the O'Brien release as an example of the ''slings and arrows'' that candidates have to endure in campaigns.

''Gosh, give me a break,'' Romney said. ''I wasn't embarrassed because the Marlin was new; I was embarrassed because it was ugly. It looked like a golf shoe. It was terrible.''

The ad complements Romney's ''work days,'' where he's pitched in as an auto mechanic, a road-paver, and a garbage man to cultivate a lunch-pail image. Romney said the work days have given him the chance to talk to Bay State workers after living mostly out-of-state for three years, but his campaign has made little secret about feeling the need for Romney to shed the corporate-raider image that plagued his US Senate campaign in 1994.

While Romney's efforts to come across as an ordinary working stiff have been mocked by Democrats, the lengths to which the O'Brien campaign went to strike back reflects a genuine concern that the tactic could succeed in appealing to all-important independent and moderate voters, some Democrats acknowledged this week.

As for the advertisements, Romney said that he hasn't pretended to be anyone he isn't.

''I don't recall in my ad suggesting that I was a poor, struggling student, and let's set the record straight: I was not a poor, struggling student,'' Romney said. ''By the way, I think we've reached a level of silliness in the campaign that's hard to surpass.''

Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 9/26/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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