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In New Hampshire, Romney Aims For Common Touch, With Mixed Results

As he continued his bus tour on Thursday, Mitt Romney may have been hoping to connect with regular folks. At a service station in Randolph, N.H., he pumped the gas himself.

But voters weren't necessarily buying his 'just folks' demeanor. When he joked with a woman at the service station about buying a classic car her family owns, she asked, "$10,000?" — an echo of his unfortunate bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a recent debate.

Earlier in the day, Romney had stopped off at a store called Simon the Tanner in Lancaster, N.H.

He and his wife, Ann, discussed the best and worst Christmas gifts he ever got her. "The best gift was a horse," Ann said. "A horse — that gift is the gift that keeps on giving," Romney laughed.

Of course, most voters probably don't think about finding a horse under their tree. Even if you don't buy a thoroughbred, it can cost as much as $10,000 a year to keep your new gift happy and healthy.

But Romney wasn't done. Lancaster is not far from the Canadian border, so the shop op also gave him the chance to practice his French — he became fluent in the language as a missionary in Paris.

As Romney and his wife examined a pair of red plaid boots, he remarked, "cinquante-quatre" ("fifty-four," presumably the price) and, a few seconds later asked, "quel size?" ("Which size?") Later, he met the shop owner's wife, who said she was from Quebec.

"On parle francais alors?" ("So we'll speak French?") Romney asked, then remarked "Vous etes francaise? Ah, vrai." ("You're French? Ah, yes.")

Of course the last candidate from Massachusetts who spoke French while campaigning — 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry — was ridiculed by Republicans for "looking French" and didn't fare so well in the general election.

The foray into francais also seemed to undercut Romney's argument — part of his standard stump speech this week — that President Obama is trying to make the United States more like Europe.

Romney also picked up another big endorsement on Thursday, this time from former President George H.W. Bush. That could help in New Hampshire, where moderate GOP voters and independents may have some residual affection for the president who's spent so much time in nearby Kennebunkport, Me.

But it's not likely to help win over Tea Party enthusiasts, much less cement Romney's common-man cred with voters. Though the story is apocryphal, Bush '41' was widely believed to have been amazed by encountering a supermarket scanner for the first time on the campaign trail in 1992.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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