MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The GOP's frontrunner in New Hampshire kept it brisk and newsless here, capping off a pancake breakfast with a brief speech and Q&A. If I am embracing and extending a cliche by observing that Mitt Romney is at home in country clubs, then so be it: He is very much at home in a country club setting. Middle-aged-skewing Republicans cheered and laughed along with Romney, sipping complementary coffee and taking smartphone photos as his wife, Ann, reminisced about raising five kids.
"Mitt used to to joke, 'Time to make the donuts!'" she said. "Remember that old Dunkin' Donuts commercial?" (If you haven't been to New Hampshire, an unofficial law mandates the construction of a Dunkin Donuts every 100 yards.)
"We had five boys, and they all wanted something different for breakfast!" joked the candidate. "Ann had to be a short-order cook!"
The speech took Romney all the way from Obama-bashing -- not that the president is a bad guy, Romney said -- to a think-of-me-as-commander-in-chief story about the candidate, as governor, making phone calls to soldiers in Iraq. "In every case, they would tell me something about what an honor it was to serve," he said. "This was before the surge. This was when Harry Reid said that we'd lost, when Joe Biden said we should split up Iraq into the three countries." That got the crowd looking sour; I noticed some real annoyance on the face of a retiree wearing a U.S. Army hat.
In 2008, Romney had to run against John McCain, with real military cred and early surge support that he never stopped reminding the pretender about. Not a problem this time. Romney was even more comfortable discussing economics, evoking a world much like our own, where Obama made the economy worse not just with Dodd-Frank and the stimulus, but with "card check, cap and trade."
He took friendly questions, but the final one, from a home-maker named Sheri Williams, gave him a chance to nag the media. Williams asked what issues the Tea Party and GOP could be united around.
"We all like to read stories that show some conflict," he sniffed. "You don't want to read a story that says 'Someone showed up, and gave a speech, and got a good reception.'" It was the media and Democrats pushing the story. "I appreciate the intent, to make us look like we're fighting amongst ourselves."
He was lucky; Williams didn't want to belabor the point. She told me that she liked the answer "for the most part," and that apart from his health care plan there wasn't too much she saw dividing him and the grassroots.
This didn't stop local reporters from tailing Romney after the speech, lobbing questions about the Tea Party and Rick Perry. Romney smiled and ignored them as he headed out the door; why make news before his big economic speech?