MANCHESTER, New Hampshire—Fresh off a narrow victory in the Iowa Caucuses, and touting the endorsement of his former 2008 rival Sen. John McCain, Mitt Romney was looking to build momentum in a town hall event here — but instead he gave one of his worst performances in recent memory.
Tired and hoarse, Romney drew a crowd of several hundred in the Central High School gym, which was filled well below capacity. After accepting McCain's glowing endorsement he started taking questions -- and then it got bad.
The first came from an Occupy New Hampshire activist who pressed Romney on his remarks that corporations are people. Romney launched into a meandering 5-minute soliloquy on the role of corporations in the economy before.
"Where do you think a corporation's profit goes?" he said to the activist, engaging him and making matters worse. McCain even approached the protester to tell him "Hey, be quiet," as the Occupier sparred with Romney.
Longtime Boston Globe reporter Glen Johnson tweeted shortly thereafter: "Covered John McCain since 2000... never seen such a lackluster performance or reaction to him..."
And where did they find these people? The crowd wasn't loyal to Romney, and many applauded a woman who said that "20 years of Reagan economics have left my tin can empty."
Making matters worse, the woman, an immigrant from China, also criticized Romney for his harsh tone on China, prompting Romney to make the awkward declaration: "I hope I didn't put any Asians down. I love people from other lands. I love legal immigration."
Romney also seemed to be responding at times to Rick Santorum's appeal for a more activist -- critics would say big-government -- conservatism, one that involves itself in social policy. Romney praised a program to pay for day care for poor working mothers, something he said is worth the cause, and he defended defense spending.