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Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Football Draw for Romney\'s Staff and the Press

The Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney looks for a coin that he tossed before a flag football game between reporters that cover Romney, and Romney staff on Sunday in Delray Beach, Fla.Evan Vucci/Associated PressThe Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney looks for a coin that he tossed before a flag football game between reporters that cover Romney, and Romney staff on Sunday in Delray Beach, Fla.

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - Mitt Romney will be participating in his own political version of Monday Night Football when he faces off against President Obama in their final debate of the campaign cycle. But on Sunday morning, Mr. Romney took a break from debate preparation to make a stop at a gridiron of a different s ort - a flag football beach face-off between members of the media and members of Mr. Romney's staff.

Mr. Romney, wearing black shorts, a black Adidas T-shirt, and gray sneakers, walked down to the beach after spending the morning at church, and kicked off the game with a coin toss. (The press won that part, with a call of “tails,” prompting Mr. Romney to quip, “That's the last call you guys are getting.”)

“Let's see, look at the captain, Gail's a captain, is that right?” Mr. Romney said, referring to Gail Gitcho, the campaign's communications director. “Got a bracelet for you.”

Mr. Romney then handed Ms. Gitcho a white rubber bracelet that read, “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, America Can't Lose,” an apparent twist on the “Friday Night Lights” motto, which Mr. Romney has recently begun quoting on the campaign trial.

“Who's the ringer over here? Who is it, who is it?” Romney asked the assembled reporters. Then, turning to his camp aign staff, clad in red T-shirts, he asked, “Where's Chris Christie when we need him? He's our line.”

Pointing to Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who has been playing Mr. Obama in debate practice sessions, Mr. Romney added, “Senator, ready to go?”

In addition to Mr. Portman and Ms. Gitcho, Team Romney included Austin Barbour, a deputy to a senior member of the strategy team; Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser; Peter Flaherty, another senior adviser; Ed Gillespie, a senior strategist, Ron Kaufman, a senior adviser, and Bob White, the chairman of the campaign.

(Full disclosure: This reporter also played, winning the coin toss for her team, but doing little else by way of yardage accrual.)

There is a long history of candidates and their staff members occasionally interacting with reporters on a social level. Senator John McCain of Arizona hosted a barbecue for the media at his Sedona, Ariz., house four years ago, and the n Senator Obama once played Taboo on his charter with reporters in 2008. At least one member of Mr. Obama's traveling press corps four years ago also sometimes participated in his pick-up basketball games.

Mr. Romney joked that his team should try to win at all costs.

“Don't worry about injuries guys - this counts,” he said. “Win!”

During his brief beach appearance, Mr. Romney also was asked - and ignored - several questions about the news of the day.

“Governor, as president, would you be open to one-on-one talks with Iran?” asked one reporter in the wake of a New York Times report suggesting that such talks were in the offing. The other two questions dealt with recent poll numbers and Monday night's debate.

Garrett Jackson, Mr. Romney's body man, tried to brush the questions off: “Guys, this is a football game,” he said. “Come on. Are you kidding me?”

“I thought you were talking about one-on-one talks with the presid ent,” Mr. Romney said with a laugh. “I was about to answer.”

After Mr. Romney left and the game was in full swing, his wife, Ann, made a brief appearance. After cheering from the sidelines, she finally decided to sub in. With the Secret Service serving as her defensive line, she threw a touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.

The game ended early - Mr. Romney's aides needed to get to debate prep, and the reporters had stories to file.

The final score: A 14-to-14 tie.