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On Eve of Illinois Primary, Romney Campaigns On Google+

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, March 20 2012

Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the race to become the Republicans' 2012 presidential nominee, spent the Tuesday afternoon preceding the Illinois primary hanging out with supporters on Google+.

Dogged by campaign flubs that his detractors say highlight his privileged financial status and inability to connect with ordinary voters, the former Governor of Massachusetts did his best on Tuesday to seem like an everyman during the hangout. He began the conversation with his supporters by sharing an anecdote about how he had to handwash a shirt in a hotel basin Tuesday morning before he attended a fundraiser because he had run out. This attempt to show the disorganized side of himself contrasted sharply, however, with the carefully chosen set of questions that the campaign had picked to answer during the hangout.

The questions, many of which came from supporters who had volunteered on his campaign, focused tightly on generic policy issues that anyone could have either Googled or read up on in two minutes on Romney's web site (where they also probably would have gotten more coherent details.) They covered China and international trade policy, Obama's healthcare policy, energy and gas prices, small business regulation, and bipartisanship. They also squeezed in a couple of personal questions about his family.

The event was moderated by senior campaign adviser Kevin Madden, who at the end of it all encouraged viewers to look up Ann Romney's meatball cake recipe on her Pinterest page.

One of the key opportunities for political candidates during these kinds of social media events is for candidates to show off their charisma and authenticity as they interact with voters and handle the unexpected. This would seem especially important to Romney, who has had a hard time charming Republican primary voters. Tuesday's Google+ hangout did nothing to change that as the campaign appeared to stick to a script, and the governor responded to questions with mostly generic answers, with no thoughtful detail.

A glance at some of the questions that Romney received from voters on Google+ with the hashtag #AskMitt hinted at how much more interesting the hangout could have been had the governor chosen to tackle some of them.

Some voters had nuanced questions about Romney's Massachusetts healthcare policy, others asked about his stance on the DREAM Act, which would give some legal rights to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Other people pointed out inconsistencies in his policy statements on the campaign trail and in his book "No Apology."

None of these and other detailed questions and criticisms were addressed during the hangout. And none of this seemed to matter on Tuesday as Romney coasted to victory in Illinois. Nevertheless, it seemed like a wasted opportunity for a candidate whose previous campaign has been willing to experiment with the unexpected online in the past.

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