By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press
PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Mitt Romney is on a charm offensive.
He took reporters' questions after a campaign rally Thursday instead of keeping them at bay. He brought them warm chocolate chip cookies for the flight from Jacksonville to Palm Beach, Fla. After he got off the plane, he walked over to show reporters a picture of his 5-year-old grandson, Parker.
It was "wild hair day" at school and the grandfather of 18 had to share what had just come into his iPad.
"You know how he did that? With Elmer's Glue and egg whites. I kid you not," said Romney, whose campaign just a day earlier engaged in a standoff with reporters over access to the candidate. "Isn't that something else?"
He chuckled about the hair standing straight up.
"I never did my hair like that. But I'm thinking about it," Romney said before heading to a private fundraiser. "People wonder how I keep my hair like it is. It's like, a little Elmer's Glue and egg white would go a long way. Is that too much?"
Then the candidate with matinee idol good looks grew quiet.
"I miss him."
Romney, whom critics brand as standoffish and cold, seems to be trying to win over the reporters who cover him daily, along with their audiences. On Wednesday, relations had soured to the point that a Romney aide grabbed a reporter's arm while others blocked reporters from him. The campaign issued a statement declaring the incident a mistake.
Romney tried to ease the friction Thursday and kept at it a day later.
"No pictures," he said Friday as he walked over to reporters who watch him leave his campaign plane in Manchester, N.H. "You'll have to wait. You'll have to wait till my kids send new pictures. I got nothing for you today."
He promised: "Next picture I'll bring it by, though."
Romney welcomed reporters aboard his plane on Thursday, coming to the rear of the cabin to chat. He did not, however, want to comment on a report that a super PAC was contemplating a $10 million TV ad campaign to drag President Barack Obama's former pastor into the mix.
By afternoon — and after that proposal was jettisoned under heavy criticism from both parties — Romney was ready to answer reporters' questions about it. And anything else, too.
Romney seldom engages with the reporters. His aides try to keep him away from an unscheduled moment, such as the one in which he declared he didn't much follow NASCAR but knew some of the team owners.
Aides are trying to keep him on script and away from the traveling reporters who chronicle his campaign and know his record best. Romney prefers to interact with conservative radio hosts and local television affiliates but recognizes the value in positive relationships with the journalists who document as many of his moves as the campaign will allow.
Romney meets regularly, and privately, with voters. The refused to allow reporters to observe his meeting in Jacksonville on Thursday.
But following the clash the day before, Romney made himself available to reporters. And if Thursday is an indication, he is looking to soften his image.
"Warm and gooey. Get the rest," he urged a reporter as he passed out the freshly baked cookies during the hour-long flight. "Come on. Two-hander."
Asked about his weekend plans, Romney said he was heading to his home in Wolfeboro, N.H., on Lake Winnipesaukee to open it up for the season. The six-bedroom, 5,400-square-foot home sits on 11 acres at the end of a private drive. The Clark Point property also features a boat house and a stable and is estimated to be worth $10 million.
"I'm going to do that this Saturday," Romney said, noting the rest of his family would be elsewhere. "It will be me alone. Put the boat in the water. Get out the picnic tables. By myself."
Asked if he was serious when he told the crowd in Jacksonville that he and his wife, Ann, were considering a move to Florida, he replied: "We love California. ... But there are attractions to Florida. It has the right tax rates, among others."
Florida residents do not pay state income tax.
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