PITTSBURGH – Mitt Romney says he learns about what it's like to struggle in a difficult economy by sitting down to chat with regular people. But the Republican presidential candidate doesn't want anybody to see it — and his campaign won't say who he meets with or when the meetings occur.
In interviews and on the campaign trail, Romney regularly says that he learns about the struggling economy by talking to people affected by it. Earlier this week, he said he meets with families "almost every day." On Friday, Romney said the talks are "off the record" — and that he agrees to keep private the names of the people he meets with.
"Before I begin an event like this, I typically am able to sit down with a few people on an off-the-record kinda basis," Romney said as he delivered his standard campaign speech Friday in Pittsburgh.
"I agree not to say who they are to the members of my media," he said, before joking: "My media, I don't have my media, I wish I had my media. To members of the media."
That description was slightly different from one he offered on Tuesday.
"So far during my campaigns one of the highlights for me has been sitting down with three or four families almost every day without the camera there," he said during an interview with CBS News. "Most of them are done privately — that is a wonderful way for me to understand how people are really feeling."
Aides did not respond to repeated requests for information about the meetings and the participants, including when the meetings take place, who has participated or even which states they are from. Aides also wouldn't say whether any meetings were held Thursday or Friday, when Romney campaigned in Virginia and Pittsburgh, respectively.
The meetings aren't listed on Romney's public schedule.
On Wednesday, a spokesman said Romney had no such private meetings before an appearance that day at a small business in Chantilly, Va.
"Almost every single small business.most every public event that we have, we have these middle-class families do a round-table with the governor," Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Wednesday when asked to explain what Romney said in Tuesday's television interview. "It's more productive to do it without the cameras. He hears from them about the Obama economy; he hears what their concerns are in the states."
Romney has held a few round-table events with voters while cameras were present.
He held one with veterans in South Carolina on Veterans Day last year, with housing industry businesspeople in Florida before the primary and with business owners in Nevada before the caucuses. After becoming the presumptive nominee, Romney held a round-table with Hispanic community leaders in Arizona.
He also meets regularly with the owners of the companies who host his campaign events. Almost all of Romney's stops on the trail are in warehouses or offices of local small businesses.
But instead of keeping these stories secret, he'll often incorporate them into his campaign speech as sad examples of a suffering economy or to highlight what America's entrepreneurial economy can do. There's a struggling barber, for example, who's putting off retirement. On the other hand, there's an immigrant who came to the U.S. and founded a company that helps with pioneering spinal surgery. Romney appeared at that company, NuVasive, in southern California in late March.
"I'm amazed by the hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people," Romney said Friday.