On the Bus with Romney: Bain, Empathy and Obama

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One of Mitt Romney’s challenges in running for President, both in 2008 and this cycle, is that he’s not exactly the most relatable guy. He’s fabulously wealthy, belongs to a religion that less than 2% of Americans share and is essentially selling himself as a technocratic captain of industry, not a share-your-beer-and-your-pain regular guy. As part of his ongoing media thaw, Mitt Romney talked to TIME’s Mark Halperin yesterday in New Hampshire. The interview offered a glimpse into how Romney is seeking to mitigate that personality gap as he stays singularly focused on making a general election argument against Obama.

When asked how he felt about employees who were laid off at companies taken over by his private equity firm Bain Capital, Romney invoked his time as a bishop in Boston’s LDS community–a chapter of his life he’s largely avoided talking about until recent weeks. “I have experienced first hand the change in people’s lives as they lose employment,” he said. “I understand that in [a] way, I think, a lot of people in my circumstances do not understand it because I’ve served as a pastor in my church and worked with people who are out of work. I know the huge human cost that’s associated with an enterprise going out of business.”

While his standard line on Obama has been that the President is essentially a good guy out of his depth, Romney didn’t shy away from casting the President as a political bully. “I know the President will try and do everything that he can to try and kill our nominee; to brutalize them, to distort their life and their record,” he said. “But what he can’t hide, no matter all the, despite all the money that he’ll amass, he can’t hide his record and the fact that he’s been President at a time when Americans have suffered and he hasn’t turned this economy around.”

With less than two weeks before the first primary ballots are cast, the degree to which Romney remains focused on Obama and the general election is striking. He was cool when asked about Rush Limbaugh and came close to critiquing Obama from the left on immigration, castigating him for not successfully pursuing immigration reform. “I don’t think either party has done a particularly superb job in being able to take its message to Hispanic voters. The President ran on a platform saying he was going to put in place immigration reform of some kind, got a lot support from the Hispanic community and had the house and the Senate and did nothing,” he said. “Despite the fact that he had both Houses in his own party, he did nothing. I think he broke a promise to the Hispanic community.”

Check out the full transcript of the interview here.