Tonight had inherent awkwardness because Gov. Romney was the keynote speaker in a Fred Thompson-drunk city at the Republican Statesman Dinner. Zack Wamp got up there and said something like, “I’m here to represent Fred Thompson for President, but you’re my favorite current candidate.” Marsha Blackburn, of course, used to have allegiance to Gov. Romney but recently switched to Fred Thompson. She conveniently was out of town and had a video message for the crowd. Some guy was handing out Fred stickers.
So, there was a weird vibe going around anyway. Then Lamar (!) Alexander got up to introduce Gov. Romney and he just went ahead and acknowledged the situation. He said something like this (from memory):
“Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have a relationship similar to that of grandparent and grandchild. They get along very well because they both have a common enemy.”
He said it more eloquently, but it was a funny reference to the fact that we all want to beat the Democrat candidate in ’08. Then, as a stern father gently reminding his children to be good hosts, he offered a warm Tennessee welcome to the Governor from Massachusetts.
I told David later that the crowd would’ve had to go onstage and literally embrace him for it to have been more affectionate. The crowd of about 800 gave him a standing ovation that went on and on and on. It was very kind.
On the way, David and I tried to figure out a good joke that Gov. Romney could use to dissipate the weird vibe in the room. He came up with:
“As you know, I’m running for President. If it doesn’t work out, I hear Law & Order is hiring.”
(Yes, this is how lame we are–creating fake lines for the Governor to deliver just for kicks.)
Anyway, somehow Gov. Romney managed to give a good speech without our help. In fact, it was fantastic! (I’ve had the honor of hearing him give several speeches, and this was by far his most impressive. I heard several people say, “He’s really good.” ) He began by saying, “There’s a lot of buzz about a certain Senator from Tennessee who might be running for President. The excitement is building, people are talking. But I can bet that nobody in this room–not a soul–will vote for…Al Gore.”
UPDATE: Apparently, the Tennessean had the same impression as I did:
Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney used comic timing, steady criticism of Democrats and broad Republican themes to ingratiate himself with a crowd of Tennessee party fundraisers Saturday night. The former Massachusetts Governor won points with the 800-person crowd, heavy with Fred Thompson supporters, by making light of a situation that could have been uncomfortable.
And here is the joke, as recorded by a reporter:
“I know there’s been some speculation among Republicans about a certain former senator from Tennessee getting into the presidential race,” Romney said during the state Republican party’s annual Statemen’s Dinner fundraiser at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.
“Everyone is waiting and wondering, all the hype is building,” he said. “I feel great comfort in the fact that no one in this room, not a single person, will be voting for Al Gore.”
The crowd burst into laughter.