FLORENCE, S.C., Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's awkward attempts to show empathy for common folks are fodder for his critics, a Romney-watcher says.
Romney has made his successful business career key to his presidential aspirations, saying his time as chief executive officer of the Bain Capital investment firm and overseeing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City is what the country needs. But efforts to demonstrate sensitivity to the anxiety most Americans have about the economy haven't been as successful, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
Romney has worked hard to show common-man tastes, including traveling on cut-rate airlines, staying at thrifty hotels and eating at sandwich joints. But displaying a common touch -- necessary for campaigners comfortable with cash -- is not always easy, as several recent Romney miscues indicated, the Times said.
The former Massachusetts governor joked with a group of unemployed Floridians about being jobless himself. He told an Iowa audience corporations were people too. He offered up a $10,000 bet during a presidential debate. He also discussed living in fear of a pink slip and said he liked being able to fire people, although the latter comment was in the context of healthcare reform.
During a debate Monday, Romney estimated he paid about 15 percent in taxes while hedging about releasing his tax returns. The White House noted President Obama paid about 26 percent, closer to the 35 percent maximum rate.
Taken together, the incidents pose an image problem, said Dean Spiliotes, a Romney-watcher and political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University.
"When people look at a president, they want to know: Does this person understand my life and what I'm facing?" Spiliotes told the Times. "People want to know somebody can identify with them in their struggles."
During Monday's debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Romney should release his return "so the people of this country can see how you made your money" and decide whether "we've got a flawed candidate or not."
On Tuesday, during a campaign swing in Florence, Romney said if he becomes the nominee, he'd release his tax returns.