- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Barack Obama goes airborne in a doozy of a bear hug with a pizza guy in Florida. Joseph R. Biden cozies up with a biker chick in Ohio. Paul Ryan encircles a campaign supporter in North Carolina in a double-armed embrace. Even the more reserved Mitt Romney seems to be loosening up some with people he meets on the campaign trail.

Kissing babies and slapping backs are so yesterday.

The 2012 candidates are putting their all into the campaign cliche of pressing the flesh.

“America’s become more touchy-feely,” says Lillian Glass, a body language expert based in Los Angeles. “That’s what they want in their candidates, and that’s what they’re getting.”

The candidates are “going after personal likability,” says Ms. Glass. “We love genuineness in our politicians, we love that warmth, and we love somebody that we can relate to.”

Politicians have always tried to connect with voters.

Al Gore’s long smooch with then-wife Tipper after his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2000 led some people to look at him in a new light.

Mr. Romney, for his part, delivered a more standard “Bye honey, see you tonight” kiss on his wife’s lips on his convention stage this year.

But he does seem more at ease now than back during the primaries, when he rather awkwardly pretended that a waitress at a New Hampshire diner had goosed him.

Gerald R. Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh, says the GOP nominee seems more spontaneous in his recent interactions with voters. “And that’s something he needs to do,” says Mr. Shuster, “to take away the rap on him that he’s cold and aloof from the audience.”

Mr. Romney’s running mate is a more physical campaigner.

When Mr. Ryan is announced to a crowd, he often shakes hands and gives high-fives and quick hugs to folks who press up against the waist-high metal barriers that hold back the audience. After events, he lingers, posing for pictures, hugging anyone who wants his embrace, often using both hands to touch the crowd.

Mr. Obama, at times, comes across more as the recipient of campaign love than the dispenser.

In July, he began an appearance in West Palm Beach, Fla., by remarking that he’d just received “the most kisses I’ve gotten at any campaign event.” And when a phone went off during his remarks, Mr. Obama speculated that it was his wife, Michelle.

“She heard all those women were kissing me,” he joked. “She got a little nervous. She’s feeling a little jealous.”

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