Romney, Riled Up

By Suzanne Smalley

Reporters on the Romney bus are starved for drama. Mike Huckabee invites the press to watch his haircuts. John McCain fires at will from the back of the Straight Talk Express, with no aides in sight. But Romney's campaign is a machine, logging the maximum numbers of miles and pausing only so that the candidate can pop out and deliver the same speech, over and over and over again. Journalists' only access to the former Massachusetts governor is usually restricted to a single daily press availability, which is conducted with a handler ever-present at his side.

So it's not hard to see why a hastily assembled appearance at a Columbia, S.C., Staples store has attracted so much interest among the Romney press corps.

Romney was in the midst of his usual spiel about his plans to shake up Washington, drawing a contrast between himself and longtime Arizona Sen. John McCain. "It's time for Washington Republicans and Democrats to have a leader that will fight to make sure we resolve the issues rather than continuously look for partisan opportunities for score settling and for opportunities to link closer to lobbyists," Romney began. "I don't have lobbyists running my campaign. I don't have lobbyists that are tied to my …"

Suddenly, Romney was interrupted by Glen Johnson, an indignant Associated Press reporter, who said, "That is not true, governor, that is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist." A noticeably flustered Romney shot back, "Did you hear what I said? Did you hear what I said? ... I said I don't have lobbyists running my campaign. He's not running my campaign." What followed was a tense back-and-forth during which Romney almost insultingly downplayed the relevance of Kaufman, a longtime friend and former political director for Bush 41's White House who happens to be a lobbyist and a Romney senior adviser. Kaufman is nothing more than an unpaid adviser, one of many, Romney said. The campaign is run by Beth Myers, he added.

For reporters who have spent the past several weeks being spun by Kaufman—a near-constant presence on the Romney plane—and watched him huddle with top staff and family before major speeches, it was a hard pill to swallow. The AP reporter dug in, asking whether Romney meant to suggest Kaufman is nothing more than "just a potted plant on your plane."

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