Romney: 'Dork factor' at play?
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney speaks at Otterbein University in April.
May 8th, 2012
02:15 PM ET

Romney: 'Dork factor' at play?

With the new backing of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney now has the support of nearly all of his former Republican opponents. But the presumptive presidential nominee still faces a disconcerting divide with voters: They just don’t find him that likable.  A new USA TODAY/Gallup poll released Monday found that just 31% of voters found him likable, compared to 58% for President Obama.

So what's the problem? Romney is smart, successful, polite and even handsome.


The answer may be hiding in plain sight. From the offhand comments muttered in homes and happy hours, to the repeat jokes on late-night comedy sketches, it seems some in America are asking if Mitt Romney is just too much of a dork.

“He was really awkward,” Otterbein University student Carissa Reed said of her experience sitting on stage with the former Massachusetts governor two weeks ago. “You could tell he was out of his element. … I was just, like, 'Should I clap?’ None of us knew what to do.”

Reed was witness to what may have been Romney’s most awkward speech of the year, with the least crowd response. During much of the 40-minute Otterbein address, students from various universities, who were on stage with the candidate, openly yawned, looked at their watches, sent texts or e-mails and in at least one case, appeared to fall asleep.

Romney, in a somewhat self-deprecating way, began the speech by pointing to problems on stage. The students were sitting behind him, facing his back. The blackboard he wanted wasn’t there. His voice trailed off as he spoke of the issues. In the body of his speech, the candidate made some significant philosophical points but drove few ideas home with impact.

He was not connecting.

The Romney campaign did not respond to CNN’s questions about the Otterbein speech and the idea that its candidate may be awkward, or dorky, in public.

“I got the impression that he’s someone smart, but who’s genuinely uncomfortable in front of a crowd,” said Otterbein political science professor Allan Cooper. “You actually see him standing up there … trying so hard to connect with these young people and failing so miserably at it.”

Cooper, who advises both the college Democrats and the college Republicans on campus, insists he is not partisan. He believes that Romney’s inability to connect is a significant issue and that it lost the support of all the swing voters in his class who saw him speak.

At the University of Virginia, political scientist Geoffrey Skelling says it is a combination of speaking style and the ability (or inability) to relate to people.

“I do think the average voter looks at Romney and sees someone who really doesn’t have much personal knowledge of the Main Street situation,” he said. “If you watch video clips of Romney at events … if he’s uncomfortable, people can tell. Versus if Obama is uncomfortable, you’d never know.”

But there is an alternate view.

“Women love a dork! Are you kidding me?” asked Romney supporter Elizabeth Blackney.

The Portsmouth, Virginia, mother knew about the Otterbein speech and saw Romney speak in her hometown over a week later.

“He definitely connected here,” she said. “It was very different.”

Her theory? That in Virginia, in front of an outdoor crowd of supporters, Romney was less hesitant about being himself about being a bit of a dork, which Blackney says he needs to do more often.

“I think he just needs to give himself permission to be that guy, ” she told CNN Radio.

Right now, Blackney believes Romney isn’t dorky enough. He needs to be more genuinely his awkward self and worry less about trying to seem cool, she said.

“He doesn't want to come off as arrogant and I think that's what holds him back. I think he should just embrace (the idea of being a dork) because the thing most women are looking for is that healthy relationship and someone who is a healthy role model for their children. Give me a geek.“

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Filed under: Mitt Romney • Republican Party
soundoff (643 Responses)
  1. Mark Omerto

    The TX Felon that go t40% of the DEM WVA primary also was only 3000 votes less than Mitt Romneys total! Obama trounced Romney, in fact nearly beat the whole R field!
    Democrat
    D OBAMA 105,854 59%
    D JUDD 72,544 41%
    Republican
    R ROMNEY 75,402 68%
    R SANTORUM 14,611 13%
    R PAUL 12,145 11%
    R GINGRICH 6,910 6%
    R ROEMER 1,523 1%

    May 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Joel

    We just got finished with a " dork " for 8 sorry years! another " dork " you must not be serious!

    May 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jorge

    Just like my boss, great big flake with a hair helmet, is all he is.

    May 10, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jorge

    If this fool isn't man enough to own up to his Hispanic heritage, how can he be man enough to hold the highest office in the country? (Oh, wait, I forgot, military pilots who get their rich daddies to keep them out of harm's way during wartime are man enough to be president too).

    May 10, 2012 at 7:44 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • tom

      when you say "military pilots" are you referring to John McCain? If so you are pitifully misinformed as he was shot down over Viet Nam and spent several years at the notorious Hanoi Hilton. He may not have earned the people's choice to be POTUS but don't you dare accuse him of skimping out on his service to the country. I may differe with him on political issues but he damn made the ultimate sacrifice and it's ignoramuses on the right and left (recall they attached John kerry as well in spite of his service in Viet Name) that muddy the waters..

      May 11, 2012 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
  5. DJRal

    All the efforts to make Obama look "cool" in the media underscore the fact that he is incompetent.
    I don't care if he can high five, run up stairs, or point to people in the audience with a big grin on his face.

    How about a competent President for a change? The last two have definitely not been, and we're all paying the price.

    May 10, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. bluto182

    “If you watch video clips of Romney at events … if he’s uncomfortable, people can tell. Versus if Obama is uncomfortable, you’d never know.” This sentiment has always baffled me. I had endless debates over it with liberals I know leading up to the last election. Bush sounded like an idiot 90% of the time he opened his mouth, but he was genuine. Obama is virtually impossible to read. The fact that voters can categorize this as a positive trait is indicative of why the American way of life is in jeopardy.

    May 10, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ltheghost

    Romney is not the best canidate for the Republicans. The more he opens his mouth the less people like him. Dogs on top of the car, bullying in high school, taking credit for the auto recovery. This is not a a good look.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. A.

    I think it's really funny how the author thinks anyone cares about if republican candidates supports him. all their candidates are greedy corrupt monsters that no1 likes. its why obama will win a 2nd time. and by the way Lisa Desjardins, romney is not polite, he was rude to the president, and you have to judge a man by how he treats his inferiors, not his superiors, he must be even more arrogant, he is ugly as hell, he is not smart, he is always being corrected because he lies and makes stuff up, and I don't call shipping jobs overseas to china as being "successful" he just lived off his dads money. romney is a joke and will lose.

    October 27, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. A.

    Tom, the ultimate sacrifice isnt signing up to kill people and then getting captured while doing it. you're an idiot. the ultimate sacrifice is saving another persons life (an innocent person, not a soldier) like jumping infront of a bus to save a kid. john mccain isnt a coward, but hes no hero.

    October 27, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ac130u

      McCain was just a bad pilot had no business in that jet.

      November 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ac130u

    Are you serious? May?

    November 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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