- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2012

BOSTON — Mitt Romney is set to launch a six-state bus tour Friday that will carry him through crucial battleground states President Obama captured in the 2008 election — and could offer the presumptive Republican presidential nominee the chance for some unscripted campaign moments.

The former Massachusetts governor will kick off the tour at the New Hampshire farm where he announced his candidacy a year ago, and then swing through the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Ohio. The final leg of the trip takes him deeper into the Midwest, where he has campaign stops penciled in for Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

The trip will include some of the retail politicking that offers Mr. Romney, 65, another chance to rub elbows with voters on a more personal level. Among his scheduled stops are joining his wife, Ann, for an ice-cream social in downtown Milford, N.H., and sharing a burger with House Speaker John A. Boehner at K’s, a greasy spoon in Troy, Ohio.

Since laying claim to his party’s nomination April 24, these kinds of campaign events have been few and far between for Mr. Romney, who trails Mr. Obama in overall likeability, but is more trusted when it comes to improving the health of the nation’s economy.

The campaign has spent much of its time raising cash through big-ticket closed-door fundraisers where donors pony up thousands of dollars for the chance to interact with Mr. Romney.

He also has delivered a series of speeches, with the latest coming Thursday in Cincinnati where he visited a manufacturing company and again made the case that Mr. Obama’s policies have been a drag on the economy. The event came to a close like many of those before it, with Mr. Romney briefly shaking hands and posing for pictures with the crowd before being whisked away.

It represents a dramatic departure from the aggressive style of retail politics used by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican nominee.

From his mathematical clinching of the nomination in March to early June, Mr. McCain had held more than 20 town-hall events and fielded dozens upon dozens of questions from voters from all corners of the country.

Mr. Romney, meanwhile, has held one town-hall meeting since laying claim to the nomination, taking questions from 10 voters in Euclid, Ohio, on May 7, where one man challenged him on his tax records, and another woman suggested Mr. Obama should be tried for treason.

For his part, Mr. Obama also hasn’t interacted with voters one on one for some time — though he did answer questions on a type of Twitter town hall last month after a speech in Iowa.

Mr. Romney also held an invitation-only small-business town-hall meeting in June, and met with teachers and administrators at an inner-city charter school in Philadelphia.

Asked about the comparison with Mr. McCain, the Romney campaign said he has held “tele-town halls” that voters have been able to phone in to join.

Republicans said Mr. McCain’s approach, not Mr. Romney‘s, was out of the ordinary.

Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire who helped Mr. McCain in 2008, said the Arizona senator relied heavily on town halls because it was a way to grab some attention during the lengthy high-profile primary battle between Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The approach helped Mr. McCain score points with voters, but also gave the Obama campaign the opportunity to cherry-pick statements, which they used against him in the general election.

“While some voters appreciate your candor and authenticity, far more voters hear about your small mistakes because the other side takes that, usurps it, and puts it in an ad,” Mr. Duprey said. “So, I think the lesson from 2008 is that while those of us who think that is the way to do politics appreciate it — John McCain’s courage and authenticity — more than once he got it handed back to him by the Obama campaign.”

Given Mr. Obama’s struggles, he said the Romney camp is smart to keep the focus on the president.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, also described Mr. McCain as a political outlier.

“I think McCain is the exception,” Mr. DeWine said. “I can’t remember too many presidential campaigns that are run in the modern era that are not scripted and totally controlled.”

Mr. DeWine said that Mr. Romney’s bus tour will give him a chance to connect with voters.

“You don’t have to do town halls to be perceived to be in touch with the average voters. If you pick your spots, really grass-roots locations, you can get at that openness in a different way,” Mr. DeWine said, singling out his scheduled visit to K’s Hamburger Shop.