BEDFORD, New Hampshire –- At a packed primary-eve rally here, an unusually feisty Mitt Romney did something he almost never does on the campaign trail: he veered dramatically off-script to engage a rowdy occupier in the crowd.
Several occupiers were escorted out of the junior high school gymnasium after interrupting his speech, but one woman remained, shouting at the candidate.
Apparently taking a cue from supporter Chris Christie, who generated big buzz for mixing it up with some occupiers at a rally Sunday night, Romney decided to respond to the woman, rather than waiting for police to remove her from the building.
“Instead of shouting, how about you say what you believe?” Romney challenged her. “What’s your view Madame? What do you think?
She started out criticizing Romney for his big-money presidential campaign—repeating the popular OWS battle cry to, “Get the money out of politics!”— but almost immediately the candidate cut her off.
“OK, and who’s the president who’s spending more money to campaign than any in the history of America?” he responded, prompting loud cheers from the audience.
He continued: “This president has been the first president to throw aside the public funding program, to break all those barriers, and to spend massively more than any president in history. And you know what? This country is too important to hand over to President Obama for a second term!”
At that, the audience erupted again (drowning out the occupier’s response that she wasn’t defending Obama’s stance on campaign finance either). Clearly fired up, Romney seized the opportunity to riff on the occupy movement in general.
“I get a chance to see these guys who come out here and protest, and now and then I ask them, ‘Tell me what would you replace America with? What kind of system would you have?’ They don’t know!
Then, the money line: “The truth is there has never been anything in the history of the earth that has freed people from poverty like free enterprise American-style.”
Not exactly a Christie-caliber performance, sure, but supporters seemed pleased to see new energy in their typically buttoned-down candidate.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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