Mark Leibovich's Saturday front-page profile of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney painted the former Massachusetts governor as all style and little substance - "Polished and Upbeat, Romney Struggles to Connect on Stump."
"Mitt Romney loves the word 'great.' As in, 'Have a great day,' 'Things are going great,' 'I'm feeling great.' Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, also looks great, sounds great and smells great, like shaving cream. Everyone who asks him something gets a 'Thanks, great question.'"
"In a halting cadence, Mr. Faux (pronounced 'Fox') explained that his 26-year-old son, an Army National Guardsman, was about to leave for Iraq.
"'What is your plan to fix this problem?' Mr. Faux asked, his voice breaking slightly.
"If Mr. Romney was feeling the man's pain, he was not inclined to say so. Instead, he gave the requisite thanks for the son's service, and then jumped into a rat-a-tat-tat litany of his Iraq talking points: He hails the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He acknowledges that the United States was 'underprepared' for its aftermath. He attacks Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, for saying the war was 'lost.'
"After eight minutes, Mr. Romney concluded, 'Thanks, great question,' and moved on.
"Mr. Faux sat with his arms folded. 'Sort of a stock response,' he complained later in an interview.
"By any measure, Mr. Romney, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, is a master pitchman and presenter, bred in politics (his father, George, was the governor of Michigan), enriched in business and battle-tested in the Republican pariah colony of Massachusetts. He is relentlessly upbeat ('I'm feeling incredibly optimistic about our future,' he says at campaign events.) His polished 'presidential bearing' has been marveled upon, a package of great hair, sleek suits and dreamy smiles well matched to podiums and magazine covers.
"But can he connect with voters? While he is climbing in the polls, some people who have seen him close up at recent events describe him as impressive but somewhat detached. He struggles at times to convey a sense that he is an accessible mortal - that he can be spontaneous, that he bears scars and can appreciate at gut-level the struggles of ordinary Americans."
"This is something of a notable admission from Mr. Romney, that he is 'on' all the time and has no intention of letting down his fabulous hair in public. But the beauty of a long presidential campaign is that only so much can be scripted and controlled. Inevitably, some unwelcome reality will intrude, and the candidate may reveal himself in an unguarded moment. Or not.
Leibovich concluded with one of those apparent moments of "beauty" - an encounter with a rude old man in New Hampshire who refused to shake Romney's hand because Romney is Mormon.
"On a perfect cloudless morning, the candidate stepped into a cafe and bakery in Dover, N.H., past an assortment of wedding cakes in the window, white as his teeth. He encountered an elderly man at the counter who promptly disparaged his Mormon religion.
"'I am someone who will not vote for a Mormon,' the man said.
"'Can I shake your hand anyway?' Mr. Romney asked.
"'No,' the man said, turning back to his eggs. Mr. Romney, moving right along, urged him to 'Have a great day anyway.' He bought a bag of cinnamon buns on the way out."
Leibovich was much more flattering in an April profile of second-tier Democratic candidate Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, hailing Dodd as a "happy warrior" in a "joyous orbit."
And Leibovich was gushing when discussing his article on Al Gore (one candidate who has definitely struggled to "convey a sense that he is an accessible mortal"), calling the former vice president turned environmental Cassandra "a very, very unique hybrid of sort of pop culture icon and science 'guru.'"