BOSTON - Mitt Romney will begin a bus tour of six swing states Friday, as the millionaire Republican presidential challenger and former business executive tries to convince ordinary Americans that he's more in touch with their economic plight than President Obama is.
Romney will start his journey where his White House bid began a year ago, at the 300-acre Scamman Farm in Stratham, N.H., and will spend the afternoon in Milford, N.H. He'll follow that with visits to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.
Heading mostly to small and midsize towns, he's hoping to meet the kinds of folks who feel the daily sting of an economy that's been slow to recover, people who recoil when they're reminded that Obama said last week that the private sector was "doing fine."
Romney does risk drawing attention to the issue of his ability to connect with ordinary Americans. He's often awkward when he's publicly spontaneous, and he can project an image of a patrician unable to relate to the masses.
"I've always been suspicious of people with white shirts and blue jeans," said Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
Still, Romney's bus tour offers a potential payoff. "Voters inclined to back Romney tend to be older and more traditional," said Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. "Doing plain old-fashioned American things like visiting small towns is not a bad move."
By starting in New Hampshire, Romney gives himself other advantages. He has a home in Wolfeboro, he won the New Hampshire primary easily last winter and he's remembered as the governor of next-door Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. A lot of southern New Hampshire residents have deep Massachusetts roots.
"We're one of his home states, and because of that he's popular," said Wayne Lesperance, a professor of political science at New England College in Henniker, N.H.
Romney has one advantage: It's hard for a president to walk around small towns and mingle. Romney can, while offering voters a jolt of confidence that things can get better.
"Romney could have difficulty telling people he's in touch. He doesn't have that kind of personality," Madonna said. "Of course, neither does Obama."