Allies urge Romney to get tough as Gingrich rises

By Charles Babington

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6 2011 2:36 p.m. MST

Republican consultant Terry Holt also urged Romney to proceed carefully.

"It's important to protect your candidate's reputation and image," he said. Romney has a statesmanlike image, Holt said, and "I'd be very hesitant to sacrifice that with so much time on the clock."

As for interview programs in general, even some Democrats sympathize with Romney's reluctance.

"It's a half hour or 15 minutes of gotcha questions," said Chris Lehane, who helped Al Gore deal with the media in the 2000 presidential campaign. But that doesn't mean a serious candidate can skip such shows, or comparable interviews with major newspapers or magazines, Lehane said.

"You have to find a happy balance," he said, between protecting the candidate from gaffes and convincing voters that the contender is smart, prepared and capable.

If a candidate skips tough questions or handles them badly, Lehane said, voters will ask, "How are you going to deal with some significant crisis? These are fairly easy things compared to what you'll face as president."

Veteran GOP strategist and lobbyist Charlie Black said, "Everybody has a bad interview now and then."

"I don't know what happened," he said of Romney's Nov. 29 interview. "Maybe something put him in a bad mood before he walked in."

All in all, Black said, Romney's team has done a good job of limiting his exposure to national interviews, which sometimes do more harm than good, while focusing on local media in key states.

Democrats happily distribute anecdotes of Romney evading journalists. They include a New York Times account of Romney being the only candidate expressing alarm at a reporter's presence backstage at last Saturday's GOP forum in New York.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said her candidate "has done thousands of interviews over the course of his career, and he'll do a lot more." He exposes himself to questions in town hall settings, televised debates and numerous videotaped interviews with newspaper editorial boards, Saul said.

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Washington and Beth Fouhy in New York contributed to this report.

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