Mitt Romney, who has campaigned for president as the businessman who can turn the country around, has often been criticized for seeming insensitive, particularly to people in dire economic straits.
"I am not concerned about the very poor," he said earlier this week, explaining that his focus is on helping the middle class and not those for whom a social safety net already is in place.
Last fall, he told Nevadans in the grip of a foreclosure crisis that the market should be allowed to bottom out without government intervention.
But he has also shown gestures of compassion that have paid off politically. Romney made a lasting, and favorable, impression on two Nevada officials last year when he reached out to them after local tragedies.
At the end of a Friday morning roundtable discussion with some business owners at a Sparks building supply company, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell thanked Romney for calling him after an air race crash killed a pilot and 10 spectators in September.
"I can never tell you how much it meant to me when I picked up my cellphone and answered a call from you," Cashell said. "You called me to tell me your hearts and prayers were with me, and that you would do whatever you could. I can never tell you how much that meant, and I really appreciate it."
Romney nodded. "This part of the state has been hard hit, I know that," he said. "Fires, and shootings, and of course the air race tragedy. This has been an awfully tough time."
"Nobody else running for this office or anything called me up, except you," Cashell said. "I can’t tell you what it meant to me during that time."
Sparks Mayor Gino Martini thanked Romney for calling him after a shooting in September at John Ascuaga’s Nugget hotel and casino.
"I was blown away by receiving a voicemail," Martini said. "It was very, very impressive that someone would be that attuned to what’s going on in the nation and everywhere in the United States, that you would call little ol’ Sparks, Nevada."
He said he was impressed that the former Massachusetts governor, who is expected to win handily in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, took the time to "get my cellphone number from somebody," and said he still has the voicemail on his phone.
Perhaps a little unnerved by the emotion, Romney cracked a joke: "It cost me 10 bucks to get that number."
In the roundtable discussion here in a state that has felt the recession more deeply than many others, Romney said he did not take much comfort in today’s news that the unemployment rate has dropped.
"This recovery has been slower than it should have been, people have been suffering for longer than they should have had to suffer. I think it'll get better. I don't know how long it's going to take. We got good news this morning on job creation in January. I hope that continues.
"But this president has not helped the process. He’s hurt it. Sometimes I got the impression that speaking to you that you don’t think you have a friend in Washington. And I can assure you that if I’m the president, I will see what you do as being a very good thing. A patriotic and good thing, which is employ people and putting them to work."