News Column

Mitt Romney Skips Entertainment TV

October 25, 2012

By Martha T. Moore

It has become so standard for presidential candidates to visit all kinds of TV shows to grab the attention of all kinds of voters that as President Obama heads to an MTV forum on Friday, it's more notable who's not going along: Mitt Romney.

On Wednesday, Obama visited with Jay Leno on his late-night chat show; last week he sat down with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

That's not to mention his appearances last month on the Late Show With David Letterman and The View, or his April slow-jamming the news with late-night host Jimmy Fallon.

Romney's last entertainment show appearance was on Live With Kelly and Michael in September, accompanied by Ann Romney, where he seemed at ease. But two weeks ago, he scrubbed a plan to accompany his wife on The View. He last appeared on Leno in March and hasn't been on Letterman since 2011, when he appeared twice to read Top Ten lists.

Obama's appearance Wednesday on The Tonight Show gave him a chance to criticize earlier remarks made by Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock about rape and pregnancy.

"This is exactly why you don't want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women's health care decisions," Obama said.

Responding to questions from the audience, Obama said trick-or-treaters can expect candy if they knock on the White House door. He added that trick-or-treaters from Ohio -- a key swing state in next month's election -- can expect extra large Hershey bars.

Candidates dating back to Bill Clinton, who played his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992, have gone on entertainment shows to demonstrate their charm in an informal, fun setting with a generally friendly interviewer, and to get in front of voters who may not be paying attention to the news. John McCain, Al Gore, and John McCain all sat on talk-show couches as candidates. In 2000, George W. Bush appeared on Letterman via satellite. "The road to the Washington runs through me," Letterman told him.

For candidates' wives, the appearances are more frequent: Ann Romney has appeared with Leno and Rachael Ray, and Michelle Obama has chatted with Letterman and done push-ups with Ellen DeGeneres.

Letterman has joked about not being able to get Romney on the show. Executive producer Rob Burnett says both Romneys and vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan have been invited. "Dave would love to chat with them. I don't know what the problem is," Burnett says. "There's not a lot better use of your time than sitting down next to Dave at this point in things."

Obama, while comfortable with the jokey nature of chat shows, has gotten himself in trouble: He was criticized for referring to the deaths of Americans in Libya as "not optimal" on The Daily Show, and in 2009, he apologized for making a disparaging reference to the Special Olympics during a Leno interview.

Entertainment shows are also risky because while the questions may seem frivolous, they are hard to predict, said Jack Pitney, politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in California.

"The only potential downside is appearing to be less than serious at a time when voters want their candidates and presidents to be more serious," says Daniel Schnur, who in 2000 was communications director for John McCain.

That may be the Romney view: In September, the Romney campaign criticized Obama for appearing on The View instead of meeting with world leaders at the United Nations.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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