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Jim Edgar’s advice for Mitt Romney: ‘Show people you have a human side’

Mitt Romney greets supporters Friday farm Commerce Mich.  |  Jewel SamadJ~AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney greets supporters Friday at a farm in Commerce, Mich. | Jewel SamadJ~AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: September 27, 2012 11:12AM

Jim Edgar and Mitt Romney have things in common.

Pragmatism, good hair and a distinct reserve.

They are former governors — Edgar of Illinois, Romney of Massachusetts.

Tropical Storm Isaac notwithstanding, they are both headed to the Republican convention in Tampa. Edgar, a delegate, believes the conventions and the debates that follow will be far more important for Romney than for incumbent President Barack Obama.

“Conventions, particularly for the challenger, give Romney a chance to cut through the commercials . . . to show people you have a human side,” said Edgar by phone from his home in Springfield on Friday.

“I’ve met him a few times and, though I can’t say I came away feeling he was the warmest person I’ve ever met, I know people who’ve been around him and been loyal to him who really like him. And that’s a huge endorsement. He needs to get that out,” Edgar said.

Wait, you’re probably saying, the country is still in an economic straitjacket, home foreclosures continue to devastate the middle class, and the jobless rate remains crippling. Who cares about a candidate’s warmth?

The American people do, actually. And so does Edgar. He learned about likability the hard way and believes it is a critical aspect of this potentially very close contest.

“I was always accused of being too stiff,” Edgar recalls. “In 1974, when I ran my first primary race for state rep, I was chief aide to the speaker of the House, I knew the issues and understood state government. But what I found out the hard way is that you can know all the ins and outs but people want to know you, your family,” he said.

He added, “I was hesitant to go around and shake hands, just go up and stick my hand out to strangers. Then I learned to stick my hand out.”

But isn’t there, at this stage in the game, a certain cynicism when a candidate goes all warm and fuzzy? Or confides deeply personal details? Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, only recently shared the story of a miscarriage.

“There is a fine line,” Edgar acknowledged, “but I think it’s valid for them to show they have a human side. People can be cynical, but that’s all right.”

Al Gore is a case in point.

In 2000, the stuffy Gore took to the podium of the convention that was about to nominate him for president and shocked even his wife at the time, Tipper, with a full-frontal-eyes-closed-three-second-lip-lock.

Corny? Oh, yeah. But it got rave reviews.

Unfortunately, Gore’s first debate with his opponent, George W. Bush, did not.

Which goes to Edgar’s second point. That as important as the conventions can be in humanizing a challenger, the debates are every bit as critical.

“That debate,” said Edgar, “is why I believe Bush beat Gore. People saw Bush, who they may not have agreed with, but found him a likable person. Gore, they may have agreed with but was arrogant.”

If some of us wonder if the coming conventions still have relevance, Edgar is not among them.

“Why do we go do this . . . and how good am I at swimming in a hurricane?” he asks rhetorically. “Because there’s an importance to it.”

See you in Tampa!

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