Off the Press
October 9, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Campaign trail includes strange detour
Journalism puts me into some strange situations from time to time, but the oddest yet remains the time I met Ann Romney, wife of Mitt and potential first lady-in-waiting.
The memory came rushing back to me Oct. 3, as I watched Romney greet her husband onstage after his debate with the president.
I met Romney in December 2007, before the former Massachusetts governor suffered a surprise loss to Mike Huckabee in the Iowa caucuses.
I worked as a reporter at a Florida newspaper group at the time and, through a connection to the publisher, slipped behind the cordon to interview Ann Romney after a meet-and-greet fundraiser in Vero Beach, Fla.
The visit occurred less than a month before the make-or-break Iowa caucuses and 50 days before the Florida primary.
Only one other media representative attended — a local radio personality, a self-promoter shameless enough to make a Real Housewife blush.
Romney met about 60 supporters at a riverfront country club. The actual speech remained closed to the media, so handlers hustled the radio personality and I to a guesthouse to wait for Romney.
The radio personality inexplicably brought his girlfriend, perhaps for the chance to meet a future first lady. Or so I thought.
Instead, under direction from the radio personality, she fumbled with a point-and-shoot camera. Left alone in the guesthouse with the couple, I soon learned that the radio personality kept a meticulous — some might say self-aggrandizing — collection of photos with himself and celebrities — A, B and C-listers like.
I laughed politely and pretended to adjust my digital recorder. Then, the radio personality pulled out a harmonica and started to play.
Mortified, I glanced at the door, worried Romney might burst in at any moment and demand for the rabble — and me — to leave.
After a few moments, as I gripped my recorder in terror and imagined my life on the Romney campaign’s blacklist, he stopped and we sat in silence.
“Do you like McDonald’s?” he abruptly asked, as if he could not stand the quiet.
“What?” I asked, unable to understand why the Golden Arches suddenly entered the conversation.
“Do you like McDonald’s?” he repeated. “Filet-O-Fish?”
“I guess?” I replied, increasingly bewildered.
He popped open a briefcase and handed me a business card redeemable for a Filet-O-Fish.
Finally, Romney arrived and the radio personality muscled past me for the initial questions. In asking a long, tangled question about her record in Massachusetts, he verbally fumbled in a manner worthy of George W. Bush.
“Well, that’s actually two separate questions, but that’s OK,” the gracious Romney replied.
I dashed through my questions, thanked Romney and as I headed for the door, a campaign aide asked for directions to a fast food restaurant.
Flustered, distracted by thoughts of Filet-O-Fish, I gave the Romney campaign the wrong directions to Arby’s.