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Romney's in his element at vacation home

A week of diving into Lake Winnipesaukee, getting ice cream for his grandchildren and buying lobster off a boat might have softened the Republican's image during a week that was a political mixed bag.

July 07, 2012|By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times
  • Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, take an ice cream break with family in Wolfeboro, N.H.
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, take… (Charles Dharapak, Associated…)

WOLFEBORO, N.H. — If his choice of vacation spot has told us anything about Mitt Romney, it may be this:

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is comfortable in a place where there are no nose rings, where the water is clear, the boats have motors, and the trees, for sure, are the right height. Where you can buy lobster right off a boat, even if there are no lobsters in the surrounding water.

He likes to go — and who doesn't? — where almost everybody likes him and he's just plain Mitt.

Actually, scratch that last part.

Photos: Romney's Fourth of July

Maybe he was just plain Mitt once, but he hasn't been for a while, and he certainly isn't now. Still, the Mitt Romney who charmed the khaki shorts off his fellow vacationers at Lake Winnipesaukee last week was notably relaxed and down-to-earth — a man seemingly in his element, whether he was jet-skiing behind his wife, Ann, diving into the lake in a T-shirt, pumping hands in the Fourth of July parade or buying his grandchildren ice cream.

None of those are unusual or noteworthy activities, at least not when pursued by the average American. But the average American doesn't have camera crews bobbing in boats off his or her vacation home — and doesn't own a multimillion-dollar lakeside estate in the first place. Moreover, the average American doesn't have the problem of being out of touch with average Americans, as polls have suggested Romney does.

So while the week brought bad news and good news for Romney politically — some conservatives criticized his handling of the Supreme Court's healthcare ruling, but he got a boost from a weak jobs report — it may have helped soften his image. It also gave him time to contemplate decisions for the campaign ahead, such as who will be his vice presidential nominee. (If he decided, no clues emerged, aside from Ann Romney's remark that a woman was under consideration.)

Wolfeboro, where the Romneys bought a vacation home in 1997, claims to be the oldest summer resort in America. The grounds for that claim may be a bit shaky (a single home built by a governor in the 18th century), but there is something undeniably timeless about the place, where a mix of mostly Colonial and Victorian-era buildings rise away from a dock on a small bay of Lake Winnipesaukee. The backdrop alone is instantly calming: steel-blue water speckled with dozens of islands and ringed by deep green mountains, the shore crenelated with sturdy clapboard vacation homes.

Jeff Ritchie and Mia Frabotta bought a house on an island in the lake eight years ago, and come to Wolfeboro from their home in Boston every chance they get. They were here last week with their friend Mike Black, the three of them sitting on their inboard Cobalt lake boat as it bobbed in Wolfeboro harbor. They had made a run into town for pizza and beer, and were relaxing with a newspaper.

The air hummed with sounds of summer: the slap of waves on boat hulls, the guttural thrust of distant engines, the squawk of birds.

What do they do there? Not a lot. Water-ski. Fish. Read.

"There's a calmness and peaceful feeling about the lake," said Black, an exercise therapist, who sported wraparound sunglasses on a shaved head. "It's about relaxation, I guess. And it's hard to leave."

Like most people in Wolfeboro, the three were Romney supporters, although Ritchie and Frabotta were a bit lukewarm. "We're from Massachusetts, so we were there when he was governor," said Ritchie, an engineer. "I think we were both OK with him as governor. I don't think we were over the top about him.... For me, it's more about defeating the president in November."

They watched Romney march in Wolfeboro's Fourth of July parade — even shook his hand and listened to the speech he gave at the end. When Romney had finished, Frabotta, a lawyer, said she turned to Ritchie.

"Did that seem like the next president of the United States?" she asked.

"No," he replied.

Black, though, is certain that Romney is the next president. He is opposed to President Obama's healthcare plan for the same reason that he opposed Romney's similar plan in Massachusetts: It forced him to buy health insurance, and he resents it.

"The majority of the country's against it, and that's why Obama is going to lose," he said.

That is not an uncommon view in Wolfeboro, where the population of 6,000 swells by three times or more in the summer. Obama narrowly lost the town of Wolfeboro in 2008, but summer homeowners cast their votes elsewhere. In random interviews, most people seem to support Romney unreservedly. "He'll get our country back on its feet," said Cindy Melanson, who runs a local jewelry store with her husband, Bucky.

Plus, just about everybody has encountered him somewhere around town, and it is hard to find anyone who dislikes him.

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