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Tagg Romney: Like father, like son

From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike

MANCHESTER, NH -- When he was 16 years old, Tagg Romney's teenage pangs led to a rebellion of sorts against his father, who nonetheless sought to inculcate his eldest with some of the things he learned along the way from his business career.

So, as one of Tagg's anecdotes goes, he was fishing off the coast of the Atlantic and lost his anchor, which was worth a measly $10. When he relayed the news to his multi-millionaire father, the venture capitalist told him to turn around and find it, leading Tagg to the retort, "Well, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard." 

Together, they headed back out to sea and recovered it within 45 minutes, and Tagg says the jaunt taught him three lessons. The first: "My dad is the cheapest human being alive." But in politics, that ought to mean something to voters, because as Tagg put it, he exercised "incredible frugality" both in government and business and "hates wasting money."

The second lesson was the generic, "With a little bit of ingenuity and a lot of hard work, you can solve even the toughest problems." And the third: "He taught me not to give up on myself, but I didn't learn that until I became a dad myself." 

The story was told yesterday to about a dozen engineers at the privately owned Optics1 plant here that specializes in surveillance systems and other defense equipment. In an interview afterwards, he explained, "I'm a character witness for my dad." And he noted that he was there while his father stumps in South Carolina because part of the campaign's strategy is to send a surrogate from the family when the candidate can't be in New Hampshire in order to keep up a strong presence there.

In two appearances on the trail yesterday, Tagg gave a stripped-down, more conversational approach to addressing voters than his father's stump speech, but it followed a similar formula. When speaking with voters and potential supporters, he came across a little less blustery than his rhetoric-heavy father, but he is fully a Generation-X mini-Mitt.

Exhibit A: While his father is prone to "Wow" and "Goll-y," Tagg's marveling response was, "This is pretty cool stuff" -- when Optics1 President Dane Hileman was showing him pictures of some of the weapons system the company produces. And instead of Romney's grandiose declarations of the "extraordinary challenges that America faces" that convinced him to get into the race, Tagg's exclamation was, "This is the greatest thing I have ever done. I'm having so much fun."

And don't forget this key little nugget of the Romney message, which came out of Tagg's mouth today before a class of high school seniors yesterday morning and applies to ... him. "I did not plan on being here in this position I am now. I am not a career politician."

Of course, Tagg's there to help get his father elected first, and in case it hasn't gotten out yet: "A lot of people have called him one of the greatest business leaders of his generation." (At events with the candidate, voters ask time and time again why more hasn't been made of Romney's business career, despite that he says without fail, "I spent my entire life in the private sector.") Romney the son thanked both of his audiences for allowing him to "brag" about his father, just as Romney the candidate thanks his audiences for their questions.

Tagg's tales allow him to talk about Romney in a way he can't about himself, like the following story, which has appeared in only the lengthiest profiles on Romney. And that is that not quite 20 years ago, Romney got a call from a business partner whose 14-year-old daughter was missing, and it led Romney to lead his entire team via planes to New York City to look for the girl. He even "went dressed in a suit to this rave -- a little bit out of place -- but people respected him for being there," Tagg told the snickering high schoolers, and eventually they found the missing the girl.

That story also led Tagg to draw two conclusions for his rapt audience, the first of which was that his father has the character to be president. And the second of which was the same as Lesson No. 2 in the other story -- that "with a little bit of ingenuity and a lot of hard work, [the] toughest challenges in life can be solved."

The elder Romney employs the same sort of methodical list, but he never quite follows the same script. He tends to give the following transition about three-quarters of the way through his traditional stump speech: "Well, let's see. I've talked about a strong economy and a strong military, and that leaves strong families. Well how do we do that?" he asks rhetorically before ticking off a list of different-issue, crowd-pleaser applause lines, like: "I believe that we need to teach our kids that before they have babies, they should get married," and "Also, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman."

Like his father, Tagg has spent a lot of time on the trail and has gotten quite a bit of practice on the stump. He said his first solo campaign appearance was at none other than Bob Jones University, whereupon he asked campaign staffers, "Where are my remarks?" to which he got none. So he called up Dad asking what to do and got a, "Good luck. Lemme know how it goes."
All of the family surrogates may be able to cover a bit more ground than Romney would on his own, but the problem is -- it's not getting much press. Tagg's public schedule yesterday included a stop before high school seniors, and just one member of the press (this one) attended.

Still, even though his father continues to say there are two tickets out of the Granite State, Tagg said today, "Our goal is to win New Hampshire." And just maybe every little bit helps.