He has to be rich – but is Romney too rich?

A jet-ski ride has brought claims he is out of touch. By David Usborne

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The Independent Online

Sensitivity may not be the strong suit of Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger in the US presidential derby, nor is he perhaps the best student of campaign history. Doesn't he remember the grief that was given to John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in 2004, when he was caught kite-surfing off the coast of Massachusetts?

Out of touch, elitist, snob, his critics immediately cried. He went on to lose.

In the parlance of election punditry, Mr Kerry was guilty of awful optics. It may be a Massachusetts thing. Kerry is a US Senator from the state and Romney is a former governor. No one was more hurt by a single image than Michael Dukakis, also a Massachusetts governor, who attracted ridicule as the 1988 Democrat nominee when he posed for the cameras in a tank with an oversized helmet and just looked goofy.

Today, the country will witness Mr Romney and members of his family march in a 4th of July parade in Wolfeboro on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. There won't be much to fault in that. Americans love Independence Day parades.

But it is the other newsreels from New Hampshire that at first glimpse seem to jar. As most Americans cut back on holiday plans, Mr Romney has been having a very nice time in his $8m, 13-acre estate on the aforementioned lake, taking his jet-skis out from the boathouse (itself valued at $630,000) and leading the grandkids on treasure hunts. Has his campaign got careless? Or is this in fact meticulously calculated? Mr Romney is hardly the first candidate with money. But you would think that he would have some tact. During the primary campaign earlier this year he famously dropped clangers like noting in Detroit that his wife, Ann Romney, has a "couple of Cadillacs" and then saying at a speedway track in Florida that he doesn't really follow racing but has a few friends who own teams.

But if the risk is being called out of touch with ordinary folk, it is not even just about money, it's also about lifestyle. When it comes to the rituals of summer, the Romney clan does not behave like the rest of us. Theirs is a summer canvas that might have been sketched by Norman Rockwell.

We know some of the details thanks to the Washington Post. Attendance at the annual summer retreat at the Lake Winnipesaukee house is obligatory for all; none of his five sons can duck out or their wives and kids. Whilst they are there, the adults are conscripted to take part in the "Romney Olympics", a series of races and tests that include swimming, biking, hanging on to poles (endurance) and even hammering nails into planks of wood.

But wait. Keeping the press away from Lake Winnipesaukee is not what the campaign has been doing this week. On the contrary, it seemingly fed the "Romney Olympic" details to the Post.

Carelessness, on closer inspection, this is not. The voters know by now that Mr Romney has money. Indeed, his success as a businessman, notably as founder of the private equity firm Bain Capital, lies behind his central campaign promise: to be a better steward of the economy than Barack Obama. "Everyone knows he is wealthy, this is not a bulletin," Professor Larry Sabato, directory of political studies at the University of Virginia explained yesterday, adding that Democrats should be wary of trying to make a Kerry moment out of one jet-ski outing. Mr Obama has in the past has taken holidays on Martha's Vineyard, not a locale likely to attract a Butlins. Nor is the President short of a buck.

If being rich is not such a problem, being impenetrably stiff is. So this is really what Mr Romney's 4th of July optics are about. They are not an accident, but rather are very clearly aimed at overcoming what might be called his "human deficit".