Romney Crashes And Burns Pandering At NASCAR's Daytona 500

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Just two days out from the all-critical Michigan primary, Mitt Romney headed to Florida Sunday to make a pre-race appearance at the Daytona 500. But for Romney, the trip wasn't just an obligatory pilgrimage to woo the conservative fans who booed Michele Obama and Jill Biden at another event last year. More importantly, Romney was trying to send a double message back to voters in his home state that he's just "a guy from Detroit" who "loves cars." Unfortunately, by declaring "I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners," would-be common man Mitt once again crashed and burned.

Romney's latest misstep came just two days after his "Ford Field Fumble" during which he revealed he owns American four cars to go along with his three houses. (While he is aware that "Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs," in 2007 his wife acknowledged "Mitt doesn't even know the answer to that" when asked how many dressage horses she owns.) Sunday in Daytona, he took his message of "Everyman Mitt from Michigan" and turned it upside-down:

Asked if taking time to appear at Daytona was an indication of his level of confidence going into Tuesday's primary in Michigan, Romney said it wasn't.

"No, it's a sign of a guy who loves cars," Romney said. "And this has always been a place where American cars have shined. And a long history from Daytona being connected with Detroit, with Detroit cars, and with the spirit of America."

Romney was at Daytona last year and said he also has been to the track in New Hampshire. Does he follow the sport?

"Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans," he said. "But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners."

While perhaps reminding some voters of Romney's two-day career as a hunter during his first White House run ("I've been a hunter pretty much all my life" 48 hours later became "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will"), most Americans will simply recall that Mitt will always be on the side of management.

Over the past two weeks, Romney has doubled-down on his November 2008 "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op-ed which opposed a federal rescue for the Big Three automakers. In the Detroit News on February 14, Romney repeated his four-year old line about his "love cars" (and "not just any cars, American cars"), but not the part about "you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won't go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed." Despite the testimonies from the likes of The Economist, former car czar Steve Rattner, his own endorsers and public opinion polls supporting President Obama's rescue package, Romney remains adamant that saving over a million American jobs was a mistake.

As it turns out, Mitt Romney may love American cars, just not the union workers who make them. In Michigan, Romney hasn't been content to brand the successful rescue package "crony capitalism on a grand scale" for "a labor union that had contributed millions to Democrats." As McClatchy reported two weeks ago, "Mitt Romney is ripping labor unions at every turn":

"Once upon a time, labor unions fought to secure important protections for American workers and help our economy grow," Romney's campaign said this week. "Unfortunately, today they too often stand as obstacles to growth and fight against the workers they are supposed to serve"...

"I call it crony capitalism," Romney said this week. "I've taken on union bosses before. I'm happy to take them on again because I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of the American taxpayers and you can protect a great industry like automobiles without having to give in to the UAW, and I sure won't."

It's no wonder the UAW welcomed Mitt to Daytona by flying a banner over the race reminding of Romney's opposition to the U.S. auto bailout.

But that's just fine for the man who proclaimed, "I'm not concerned about the very poor." After all, Mitt has reminded Americans struggling to make ends meet that "I'm also unemployed" and part of the "80 to 90 percent of us" who are middle class. Besides, while many of his best friends are NASCAR owners, Mitt Romney "loves cars" and, like Daytona, has a long history "being connected with Detroit, with Detroit cars, and with the spirit of America." As the Toronto Star reported on Saturday:

Romney recalled he was "probably 4 or something like that" the day of the Golden Jubilee, when three-quarters of a million people gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American automobile.

"My dad had a job being the grandmaster. They painted Woodward Ave. with gold paint," Romney told a rapt Tea Party audience in the village of Milford Thursday night, reliving a moment of American industrial glory.

The Golden Jubilee described so vividly by Romney was indeed an epic moment in automotive lore. The parade included one of the last public appearances by an elderly Henry Ford.

Unfortunately, as the Star pointed out, Mitt wasn't alive to see it:

And it took place June 1, 1946 -- fully nine months before Romney was born.

But that's just Romney being Romney. As he responded to Chris Wallace of Fox News about his disastrous efforts to connect to average Americans, "You know, I can't be perfect. I just am who I am."

(For more background on Mitt's missing empathy gene, see "Romney's New Message: I Care." This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)

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