Press corps love watching Romney try to guess children's ages

The New York Times

In "The Story Behind the Story," the Times' email newsletter to its subscribers, political reporter Ashley Parker describes what it's like to cover Mitt Romney. A lot is not new: lukewarm takeout meals, long bus rides, early-morning luggage checks, nights at the bar with sources. But she also reveals something you'd only know if you had followed a candidate around for months:

Mr. Romney loves guessing the ages and ethnicities of voters — often incorrectly. Whenever Mr. Romney bends down to chat with a little kid, the whole press corps giddily inches forward, waiting for the inevitable moment when he asks a boy who is clearly 4 or 5, “How old are you? 9? 10?” (His favorite guess for nationality is French-Canadian, which was a reasonably safe bet in New Hampshire, but became more precarious in more recent primary states, like Florida and Ohio.)

In a December story, Parker and Michael Barbaro went into more detail on Romney's penchant for guessing people's ages, nationalities and relationships:

“Sisters?” he asked. (Nope, stepmother and stepdaughter.) “Your husband?” he wondered. (No, just a friend from the neighborhood.) “Mother and daughter?” he guessed. (Cousins, actually.)

The results can be awkward. “Daughter?” he asked a woman sitting with a man and two younger girls at the diner in Tilton, N.H., on Friday morning. Her face turned a shade of red. “Wife.”

Oh, Mr. Romney said. “It was a compliment, I guess,” said the woman, Janelle Batchelder, 31. “At the same time, it was possibly an insult.”

Countries of origin are another Romney favorite. When a man in Bethlehem, N.H., stood and introduced himself as Randall Loiacono, Mr. Romney asked, “Now, is that a Northern European name?”

“Sicilian,” Mr. Loiacono said, before standing and spelling his name at Mr. Romney’s request.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.

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