Romney's Veep Audition

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

Former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 26

Well-rested with his typically impeccable coif, Mitt Romney is back on center stage. Fresh from a ten-day vacation at the Beijing Olympics, the former Massachusetts governor barreled through Denver Tuesday, crashing the Democratic convention with a barbed audition for his possible spot on the McCain ticket.

Over several meetings with reporters, and hits on the cable news channels, Romney demonstrated his ability to deliver John McCain's message in a more concise and comprehensive way than any other McCain surrogate. In interview after interview, Romney was relentlessly negative, without ever raising his voice or coming across as strident. He hammered Barack Obama as an inexperienced "celebrity" and repeatedly cited the less fortuitous foreign policy positions of his running mate, Joe Biden.

"You have in the two people running for president, interestingly, two people who represent very different views of how to solve the challenges we face," he said at one of his first stops, a lunchtime meeting with the press, organized by the Christian Science Monitor. "On one side, with Barack Obama, you have an individual who I believe is a very charming and charismatic celebrity and senator, a nominee for the Democratic position to become president."

But that was just the set up. Romney said little else about the Democrats that could be considered even remotely complimentary. On taxes, he said Obama was considering increases for corporations, individuals, capital gains, and social security. He accused Obama of wanting to "restrict trade," by unilaterally renegotiating the North Ameircan Free Trade agreement. On energy, he hit Obama for not pushing harder to expand nuclear energy and opposing offshore drilling. In a new line of attack, he accused both Obama and Biden of being lifelong politicians, compared to McCain, who entered politics in his mid-40s. "Neither one has spent a life outside of politics," he said. "As you stand back and look at Joe Biden, you see someone who has spent 30 years dealing with foreign policy but has usually been wrong."

Romney is widely considered to be on a short list of possible vice presidential candidates for McCain, though the campaign has remained tight-lipped about its final decision, and even if it has been made. He said he has had no conversations with McCain about serving on the ticket, though he declined to comment further. He also dodged questions about the criticism he still attracts from Mike Huckabee, another of his primary season rivals who has argued in public that Romney could be a divisive pick for the Republican party. When asked the gotcha question of how many houses he owns, Romney struck back with a prepared answer. "One less than John Kerry," he said. "That's four."

The exacting, sometimes wooden delivery style that Romney suffered from in the primaries is well suited to the general election, which revolves around television soundbites, not town hall meetings and church basement gatherings. For Romney, though, the biggest barrier may be the well-documented personal animosity that existed between McCain and him during the primary. But Romney tried to minimize its import. "Despite the fact that we differed on issues, in every debate I pointed out my respect for him," Romney said, leaving out the fact that those compliments were often followed by sharp attacks on McCain. Romney said he now considers McCain "a friend," having watched him bar-b-que and spend time with his children in Sedona, Arizona.

Democrats, in anticipation of Romney's appointment to the McCain ticket, have been sending out releases attacking the former governor as "one of President Bush's biggest defenders" who is out of touch with working people. On Monday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe called Romney a "job killer" for his work in the private sector as a corporate manager. Romney responded to the charge by claiming that he had created far more jobs than he ever eliminated.

It was, over the course of the day, a remarkable marathon of interviews, with Romney showing himself eager to tackle almost any subject but one. At the end of one press conference, he was asked if he had any interest in serving as vice president. Romney turned to Marsha Blackburn, a Republican congresswoman from Tennessee. "You can take that," he said with a smile. She demurred. So Romney turned to face the reporters again. "We haven't got anything on that one," he said. "Thanks."