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. Carmen

    Amazing how people choose to ignore/deny the dismal numbers on 1/20/09 compared to numbers in 2012. Unfreakin' amazing! Yep, Romney is a dork who feels uncomfortable w/REAL people. After all, how many times do you think he sat at a picnic table eating homemade cookies and just enjoying being with people making 50K/yr.?? The answer is NEVER. At some point, President Obama has had that experience. This is one dangerous dork my friends. Watch out.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    CNN is amazing. Can they be more blatant in their hatred of the GOP?

    May 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Burbank

    I don't dislike him but Romney has to be the most awkward Presidential candidate I have ever seen.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scott Wallace

    Got to love how the republicans who ruined this country during the Bush years blame everything on Obama because he couldn't fix there 16 years of screw ups in 4 years. How is that Obama's fault? Especially when the republicans shoot down every idea he's ever had.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • stanton

      you are so right that's all they know how to do is shoot down every good idea the man has had and then try to blame him for their mistake's THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND THE TEA PARTY IS THE SCARIEST BUNCH OF SCREW BALL'S IV'E EVER HEARD!!!!!!

      May 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      If only everyone was as logical as you. Unfortunately there are just way too many uneducated and/or bigoted people in this great country of ours.

      May 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. swamprattler

    well to see who still sucks up odufus' swill, all you have to do is come to CNN,

    May 8, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seattle

      Mitt is a dork one day and then the next day he is not.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Malty

      These CNN jokers are making me reconsider my news sources.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. B-rock

    CNN's negative article campaign amping up!

    May 8, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • s~

      yup, here we go...AGAIN... I cant wait to see what's on MSNBC.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      And the anti-Obama campaign has been running full at FOX for 3 years – whats your point??

      May 8, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dave

    Romney is a dork, but Obama is cool? Could this be a distraction from the failing economy and record of our current President?

    May 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • s~

      Obama has nothing to run on except who's more cool?

      May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • useful idiot

      I keep looking for signs Obama is cool. I think Obama is the real dork in the room. Rides a sissy bike. Makes up girlfriends. Throws like a girl. D.O.R.K.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Z

      Sad to see CNN so blatantly taking sides. I've never heard anyone say that Romney is a dork. NOBODY.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • quieteye

      Failing economy? The bikini graph indicates otherwise – has been for quite a while if not as fast on the upside as we would all like. But then – the "Party First" Republicans demonstrate by obstruction and auto-filibuster they don't put "Country First" contrary to the propaganda. Hope people learned who's interest they really represent and vote accordingly.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. s~

    We all thought Obama was cool and look what it got us.

    HOPE AND CHANGE lol......

    May 8, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • FLIndpendent

      I would love to know from those that keep on about "hope and change" what it is they actually expected from one man in 3+ short years. President Obama has made numerous changes and is still in the process, but undoubtedly things would be even much better if he had a Congress that will work with him. All I know is if Bush had killed Bin Laden, Bush's face would be on Mt. Rushmore already!!

      May 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Vader

    I'll take a genuine dork over a total phony like Romney any day of the week. That is why the US public isn't connecting with Mitt. His total lack of any sense of core belief and principle is so apparent and obvious that even the American ADD public can see it, and are reminded of it every time he opens his mouth.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. John M

    I don't quite think that Romney's dorkiness is the issue. Obama looks pretty dorky, but that's to his credit, because he's an articulate intellectual. Rather, the issue is that Romney is simply out of touch, not just with women, minorities, young people, but with *everybody.* In many ways, he feels like somebody who is just going through the motions, like a job interview that you really hate but you go because you want the job.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Obama is more "out of touch" than Romney. The difference is that Romney is a solutions guy (doing more than talking) and Obama is an ideologue... talker and agenda.

      The US economy needs Romney more than it ever needed Obama.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. NotAParasite

    Liberals new slogan for 2012 "Live like parasite and be proud of it!"

    May 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Interested48

      Republicans slogan for 2012: "We're mean and nasty and proud of it!"

      May 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Etch-A-Mitt

      I guess all those Red states that get more in federal dollars than they pay in must be feeling proud today.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Big Z

    The headline is all I need to know about CNN. They have become another arm of the DNC. What Hacks.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Independent

    Romney leads into today's polls. Why cover that story when you can call him a dork on the front page. Shame on CNN. Regardless of your politics and who you support, people should be demanding more from organizations that are suppose to report the news.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. REAL Conservative

    Mitt isn't a dork but he certainly is a loser who will say anything to get where he wants to go. He's a no backbone spineless liberal hat will never get my vote

    May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Hmmmm, you are a dork–a dork that is all in for Obama. Quit lying about being a conservative.

      May 8, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sara Beane

    Obama is the celebrity president, who sings on late night shows and visits the women of the view.

    As the most powerful man in the world, you have better things to do. I understood it as a way to connect with younger viewers, but it has gotten out of hand. America needs fixing, someone with business skills, not community development skills to do that.

    This is an unnecessary and superficial character debate. Romney can get the job done and that's what we should all be concerned about.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
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