LONDON — Looking to movepast his withering debut in the British press, Mitt Romney appeared on NBC’s "Today" show Friday morning and insisted that he was “absolutely convinced” Londoners were ready for the Olympic Games.
Romney, who had a stellar record heading the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, created a firestorm on this side of the pond earlier this week by telling "NBC Nightly News" host Brian Williams that he found initial reports about security and labor problems “disconcerting.”
Though his criticism was mild (and tempered with praise for the imaginative organizing of the London Games), the voracious British press pounced — ultimately leading Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson to weigh in with more than a touch of annoyance.
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The Romney campaign’s headache continued Friday as headlines in some of the British tabloids proved to be the opposite of what his team was looking for at the start of a journey intended to show him as a statesman. “Mitt the Twit, Wannabe U.S. President Romney in Games insult, but David Cameron insists: We’ll show you,” The Sun blared on Friday morning. The Daily Mail had this: “Who invited party-pooper Romney?”
The typically press-averse Romney campaign responded by putting Romney and his wife Ann out in full force on the U.S. TV networks. After an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan Thursday night, which caused Romney to be uncharacteristically (and extremely) late for a top-dollar fundraiser in the tony Knightsbridge district, Romney was on the "Today" show Friday morning to once again try to smooth over the flap.
“I'm absolutely convinced that the people here are ready for the Games,” Romney said when asked about Friday’s headlines. “In just a few moments all the things politicians say will get swept away because the athletes finally take the stage — the Games are about the athletes. That's why the Games, virtually anywhere they've been, have been highly successful.”
The presumed Republican nominee explained his earlier comments by saying that he read the same reports that many others did about security concerns and the possibility of a strike by immigration and customs officials: “But after being here a couple of days it looks to me like London is ready.”
Echoing Cameron, who wincingly told reporters Thursday that it was harder to put on the Games in “one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world” than in the “middle of nowhere” (read: Salt Lake City), Romney acknowledged on the "Today" show that it was hard to “put on Games in a major metropolitan area.”
“What they've done that I find so impressive is they took the venues and put them right in the city,” said Romney, according to a NBC transcript of the interview. “You're going to be able — just on the back side of 10 Downing Street — [to watch] beach volleyball, for instance, so it's pretty impressive.”
Romney’s campaign also sought to turn the conversation to Friday’s U.S. economic report showing a sluggish 1.5% growth rate in the second quarter.
And by Friday night when the attention of London and the world turns to the opening ceremony, which the Romneys are attending, some of Romney's fans are hoping the spotlight moves back to his finer Olympic moment turning around the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.