Mitt Romney made a risky move Sunday night by scheduling a campaign rally at the same time that many voters were watching Hollywood’s stars dazzle on the red carpet before the Oscars. But he drew a strong crowd in this city on Grand Traverse Bay, regaling them with teenage tales of how he stole a kiss from his wife, whose family had a cottage in nearby Manistee.
“I know there's some young people in the room, but I actually kissed her there,” Romney said as the crowd oooohed. "Oh yeah," the candidate said. "She was 16, I was 18, you know."
"My father caught us, by the way," Ann Romney continued a few minutes later. Turning to her husband, she added: "We were on the pier, do you remember that?"
The Romneys were full of that sort of nostalgia as they rallied voters in Traverse City, known as the tip of the mitt-shaped state Michigan. The pair, who spotted one another in elementary school and began dating in high school, like to say they often fight over which is Michigan's better lake: She prefers Lake Michigan; his family had a cottage on the Canadian side of Lake Huron.
Ann said she spent many of her summers in Manistee "catching snakes and frogs."
"I liked to go on the road and catch the blue racers and sort of scare my brothers," she said. "I'd drape them around my neck and around my wrist. I was the ultimate tomboy when I grew up here in Manistee and I loved the Great Lakes. I would swim in that Lake Michigan and I'd climb the sand dunes here.
"In a shift from recent days, Romney did not mention rival Rick Santorum by name. Instead, he alluded to the former Pennsylvania senator and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as two "sort of leading contenders" who "spent their life in Washington."
But he did reference Santorum's remark in last week's GOP debate that he'd voted for the No Child Left Behind legislation because "when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader."
"If you want to send someone to Washington who is down there working for his team -- whoever that might be -- and working around the edges to make little changes here, and little changes there… then there are plenty of other people to choose," Romney said. "On Tuesday, I need a big voice coming from right here," he said. "I need you guys to get out and vote."
Although the race is tight in Michigan, Romney took time away from his barnstorming tour of the state to fly to Florida for the Daytona 500. His aides said it was a chance for him to connect with NASCAR fans around the country and in Michigan.
But Romney did not appear on the Fox broadcast of the event, which was rained out and rescheduled for Monday.He met with campaign donors and appeared on several NASCAR-related shows, including the Motor Racing Network and NASCAR radio on XM Radio, aides said.
On Twitter Sunday night, Democratic aides sought to draw attention to Romney's comments in an interview at the racetrack with an Associated Press sports reporter.
According to an aide, Romney was talking about his love of cars and his admiration for Richard Childress, a self-made former driver who now owns his own team. When asked by the Associated Press whether he follows NASCAR, Romney said, "Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners."
Romney told the AP that he had toured a garage with Childress. Democratic Party Communications Director Brad Woodhouse, along with other Romney critics who have sought to paint him as out of touch with average voters, mocked those remarks with a series of tweets, including: "I don't know pilots, but I know people who own airlines."
One keyed off the evening's main event: "I don't know the Best Movie nominees, but I know people who own movie studios," Woodhouse tweeted.