Romney in Florence, S.C. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
FLORENCE, S.C.—For half an hour, they delayed, but the crowd didn't get bigger.
Just over 100 people turned up for an 8:30 a.m. rally here for Mitt Romney, a decision that may have influenced the campaign's decision to abort a grand entrance for the candidate and his wife, Ann, that involved driving the campaign bus into the building.
Taking the stage, Romney eyed the smaller than usual crowd, which had already been documented by the dozens of reporters on the scene with photos posted to their Twitter feeds, and seemed to offer an explanation for the news media.
"What time is it here? 9:00 a.m. in the morning?" Romney said, eying his watch. "Gosh, this is a work day right?"
After a 15-minute stump speech, that included a heavy focus on social issues, Romney shook every hand in the crowd before heading outside to take questions from the assembled press corps. Ann Romney, who had been chatting with reporters, jokingly raised her hand and got the first question: "What happened to your skinny jeans?" she asked.
Romney, who was wearing a baggy pair of Tommy Bahamas, grinned but didn't answer. He wore the same smile as he underwent intense questioning from reporters from everything from his ties to a super PAC that is spending millions to promote his bid for the Republican nomination to what his estimated tax rate is.
As his aides tried to end the presser—"LAST QUESTION!" one staffer shouted—Romney lingered and offered perhaps the most revealing answers yet about two issues that have dogged him on the campaign trail—his wealth and his record as a jobs creator.
While he again demurred on questions about why he has not released his tax returns, Romney offered a hint of what will be the biggest headline when he eventually (presumably) does disclose them. He told reporters that his "effective tax rate" is "closer to 15 percent"—far less than what most middle income families around the country pay. He explained that most of his income today comes from "investments I've made in the past" and from book sales.
As staffers again tried to usher him on his bus, Romney paused to offer a testy response to an NBC reporter's question about how he came up with a figure he often touts about the number of jobs created by companies he invested in while head of Bain Capital. At Monday night's debate, he said 120,000 jobs generated by companies Bain backed.
Asked about the figure by NBC's Peter Alexander as he walked to his bus, Romney stopped dead in his tracks.
"Let's get the math, alright?" he declared. "Four companies created 120,000 jobs. It's very simple. Four companies created 120,000: Staples, Bright Horizons, Steel Dynamics, and, uhhh, which one am I missing? Sports Authority … If you look up their 10ks today, you'll find that they have 120,000 jobs.
When a reporter interrupted to say that total did not include jobs lost during that period—a figure the Romney campaign has downplayed—the candidate got a bit snippy, responding, "Gotta listen to the very end, alright?"
"Those four created about 120,000 jobs. And then all of those businesses that had been well-documented by various people over the years, when I ran in '94, when I ran last time, when I ran for governor, those that have lost jobs, they end up being a little less than 10,000, those that were losers," he explained. "So if you took the ones that were losers, and compare with the ones that were -- those four, at least -- why you end up with something over 100,000."
It looked as though Romney wanted to continue talking, but his body man interrupted.
"Governor, we've gotta go," he told the candidate.
Romney smiled. "Thanks everybody," he said, as he rushed to board his bus to catch a plane to New York, where he's set to appear at campaign fundraisers today.
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