Romney goes from presidential candidate to tabloid fodder

Holly Bailey
National Correspondent
The Ticket

Mitt Romney was deep into the final stretch of his bid for the presidency just one month ago, looking at internal poll numbers that his staff said proved the White House was firmly within his grasp. By now, Romney was supposed to be busy with his transition to succeed President Barack Obama in the Oval Office and planning his lavish January inauguration.

Instead, Romney spent his week in perhaps the most unremarkable way possible: He went to Costco and bought a giant box of Bisquick. But the voracious coverage of the purchase is the latest evidence of a transition Romney probably didn't expect: from being a man on the brink of the presidency to a sudden star on the celebrity tabloid circuit.

Romney's Costco run was a mundane trip that wouldn't have even merited local news coverage. But it was big news for the celebrity website TMZ, which published 28 photos of Romney and his wife, Ann, cruising through the big-box discount store with two carts full of perhaps the least exciting purchases possible, including a giant pack of Kirkland paper towels, a case of V8, gift-wrapping paper and several packs of paper plates. Romney, who wore sunglasses and a baseball hat, also purchased toy cars—which were, as TMZ scandalously pointed out, made in China.

The Romneys were photographed inside the store and in the parking lot as they loaded items into their newly purchased Audi SUV. In several photographs, the former candidate appeared to be whistling, but was otherwise expressionless. The photos, like most published on TMZ and other celebrity sites, were taken by a freelance photo agency that sold the pictures to the site.

While Romney hasn't given a formal interview since his loss to Obama, the public hasn't been lacking in details about what the former Republican nominee has been up to over the past month.

Just days after losing the election, the public got its first glimpse of Romney since his Boston concession speech when the ex-candidate was photographed pumping his own gas at a station near his home in La Jolla, Calif. His shirt wrinkled and his famously groomed hair mussed, Romney looked clearly miffed in the photo, which was taken by a citizen paparazzo with a camera phone and quickly posted to the site

"Mitt Romney at my local gas station," the photographer, identified only as mkb95, wrote on Reddit. "He looks tired and washed up."

The photo seemed to set off an unofficial Romney beat in Southern California, as suddenly the ex-candidate has become hot fodder for sites like TMZ. The site, famous for tracking the ups and downs of celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen, has devoted four blog items to Romney in the past two weeks—chronicling everything from a sweaty trip to the gym to a date with Ann to see the final "Twilight" film.

When Romney and his family took a trip to Disneyland on Nov. 21, TMZ's daily TV show dedicated a whole segment to footage of the family at the park—including video of Romney and his sons riding the Matterhorn roller coaster. A photo of Romney whooping it up during one of the Matterhorn's steep drops was published on Us Weekly's website and in last week's print magazine, where it was prominently displayed next to a photo of Kim Kardashian in the "Stars are just like US!" section.

It's unclear how much a photo of Romney and his family is going for these days. Us Weekly declined to comment on its postelection coverage of Romney, and a publicist for TMZ did not return an email seeking comment.

But the decision to devote any coverage at all to the former presidential candidate would seem to indicate at least some public interest in what Romney is doing in the aftermath of his second failed White House bid—a perhaps ironic development given how some news organizations, including BuzzFeed, once wrote about the intense lack of interest in Romney as a candidate.

While several Romney associates contacted by Yahoo News said they hadn't spoken to him about his sudden rise as celebrity blog fodder, it's a fascination the Romneys could relate to. While the former Massachusetts governor was often mocked as robotic in his relentless efforts to stay on message and avoid verbal missteps, a little known fact about the Romney family was their own interest in celebrity news.

Romney occasionally gave brief glimpses of his pop culture savvy, joking about the Kardashians and telling a talk show that he preferred Snooki from MTV's "Jersey Shore" over child reality starlet Honey Boo Boo. A few months before he officially kicked off his second White House bid, Romney tweeted a photo of himself posing with Robert Pattinson, star of the "Twilight" movies that Romney often insisted he liked.

Throughout her husband's presidential bid, Ann Romney was often spotted on the campaign trail with celebrity tabloids, including Us Weekly. And in March, Romney, with her husband at her side, joked with reporters about how she had finally "made it." During a trip to the supermarket near their home in La Jolla, she had spotted herself on the cover of the National Enquirer, which ran a story suggesting she had cheated on her husband.

Grabbing the magazine, Romney said she had looked at the checkout cashier and exclaimed, "This is me! This is me!"

"I am a cheating wife! On the cover of the National Enquirer!" she recounted in March, jokingly scolding reporters for having missed the "scandal." Asked if she had purchased the tabloid, Romney readily admitted she had, telling reporters that she had "loved it."

At her side, her husband laughed. "Mitt Romney's cheating wife!" he told reporters. "Who else would be proud of being the cheating wife?"

Pausing, Romney told reporters in a mock serious voice, "I found this an interesting issue to be honest."