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Romney Shows His Soft Side; President Tightens His Pitch

Mitt Romney on a farm in Van Meter, Iowa, on Tuesday.
Jim Watson
AFP/Getty Images
Mitt Romney on a farm in Van Meter, Iowa, on Tuesday.

With 27 days until the general election, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was on an Iowa farm Tuesday where he did what he's done for months: criticized President Obama's economic policies, though his critique understandably had an agricultural slant.

But the Republican presidential nominee also did something he hasn't done much of before now: He told the kind of personal anecdotes meant to reveal his softer side to help voters connect with him more easily.

President Obama at Ohio State University in Columbus on Tuesday.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
President Obama at Ohio State University in Columbus on Tuesday.

Obama, for his part, continued to try to work his way out of the hole he created for himself with his rambling and passive debate performance last week. At a campaign rally, he opened his speech with a compact list of his achievements, many of them 2008 campaign promises he has kept.

And while he failed to attack Romney in the debate, Obama has steadily poured criticism on his rival since the two men left the stage in Denver. The president continued that criticism in Ohio.

At a farm in Van Meter, Iowa, Romney criticized Obama for regulatory, tax, energy and trade policies that he said hurt American farmers.

For instance, he said, "The regulatory burden under this administration has just gone crazy."

Romney charged that under Obama the federal government tried to regulate rainwater in ditches on farms, dust levels and the types of farm jobs teenagers could perform.

A few minutes later, Romney departed from policy to take a more personal turn. He told the kinds of stories he rarely if ever would share before now on the campaign trail.

His family has reportedly pressed his advisers to allow him to tap into this side of his biography in an attempt to humanize him more for voters.

So Romney told of a cancer-stricken teenager whom he had befriended years ago. The teenager, Romney recounted, bravely asked him to help write his last will and testament so his skateboard and other youthful possessions could be properly distributed to friends on his death.

The story allowed Romney to describe the young man with a line that has become something of a campaign slogan recently for the GOP candidate: "Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose."

Romney also told of going to a neighborhood house party that he had mistakenly thought he and his wife, Ann, had been invited to. There, he said, he met a former Navy SEAL — the same SEAL who was killed in the recent attack in Benghazi, Libya, along with the U.S. ambassador to the country. Romney was visibly emotional as he told this story.

Meanwhile Obama, at a rally at Ohio State University in Columbus, urged thousands of students and others in attendance to register to vote — this being the last day that's possible — and to cast their ballots when they do so (Ohio allows early voting).

The campaign even provided buses to take the students from the rally to registration and voting sites.

Then the president ticked off a list of his accomplishments. He warned of the reversals that could occur if he's not re-elected.

"Everything that we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012. And I need your help to finish what we started. You know, four years ago I told you I'd end the war in Iraq and we did. I said we'd end the war in Afghanistan and we are. I said we'd focus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 and today Osama bin Laden is dead. Four years ago, I promised to cut taxes for middle class families and we have by $3,600. ..."

It was the kind of concise defense of his record his supporters waited in vain to hear at the first presidential debate. His attack lines on Romney were tight as well. His remarks at the rally sounded like a road test of an approach we could hear at the second presidential debate, scheduled for next week.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign dropped new ads, the artillery shells of politics, on Romney.

One ad focused on Medicaid, specifically on the program's importance to families with elderly members in need of nursing-home care. The ad said that as Massachusetts governor, Romney had repeatedly raised the fees paid by families with with elderly parents in nursing homes.

Another Obama ad featured the Sesame Street character Big Bird and mocked Romney for saying during the debate he would cut federal funding to the Public Broadcasting Service to help close budget deficits.

Sesame Workshop asked the Obama campaign to take down the ad, but it was still on the campaign's YouTube channel after the close of business.

The reverberations from last week's debate in the presidential race's dynamics, as reflected by the polls, continued to be the subject of much discussion and analysis. The bottom line seemed to be that the polls still showed a race that appeared to be tighter than before the debate, with Romney maintaining some of the bounce from his assertive performance.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.