JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—For seven days, Mitt Romney has not held a press availability to talk to the reporters following him, so when he finally made the trek Monday back to the rear of his campaign plane where reporters sit, he came bearing a gift.
Inching tentatively down the aisle like a bride in search of a groom, Romney carried a red and white sheet cake, with two lit candles in the shape of a "3" and a "4," marking the 34th birthday of Los Angeles Times reporter Maeve Reston.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you," he sang a bit awkwardly as he shuffled down the aisle. His kept his eyes on the cake, which kept nearly slipping out of his hands. Dozens of cameras—still and video—filmed his every move as reporters crowded in the aisle and over seats to get a good look at the candidate.
Reaching Reston, Romney didn't quite know what to do. "Plates? A knife?" he said, looking back a bit anxiously at his senior aides, who wore smiles like proud parents on their child's first day of kindergarten.
"Maybe we'll save it for after lunch?" he finally said, setting the cake on a nearby tray table. Looking as though he needed something to do, he grabbed a basket of chips and began tossing them at reporters, hitting at least one photographer in the head.
"Why do you have chips?" someone asked.
Romney looked down and grabbed a bag. "Cheetos, I like Cheetos," he said. Picking up a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips, he said, "I had these yesterday." He cast a bag of Pop Chips aside, before grabbing his Cheetos and trying to make a run for it to the front of the cabin.
But Reston stopped him and asked how he was feeling ahead of Florida's primary Tuesday. "Good, good. Good crowds, enthusiasm," Romney said, fiddling with the bag of Cheetos. "You never know until it's actually over what's going to happen."
Motioning to Reston, Romney laughed. "Look at her, on her birthday, she's going to try and get some questions in," he said. "It's not exclusive though, you must admit."
But, Romney continued, "It feels good at this point. In South Carolina, the crowds were good, but you could sense it wasn't going our way."
In Florida, it feels like it's "getting better and better everyday," he said. It isn't just the large crowds he's been getting—including more than 1,000 in Naples on Sunday—but rather the "folks you talk to after the rallies," he said, including organizers and activists who have been telling him what's happening on the ground in the state.
Within a few minutes, the plane's engine began to roar to life, and Romney took his cue. "Thanks guys," he said, and headed back up to his seat on the second row of the plane, Cheetos in hand.
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