Obama and Romney: Is there a relationship behind the politics?
Though their political fates are entwined, President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have rarely connected personally. Wednesday's debate in Denver will be the first time the two men have met face-to-face in five years.
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By the time their paths crossed again, the rising political stars were presidential contenders. Seeking to line up votes in the New Hampshire primary, they both showed up for the 2007 Labor Day parade in the town of Milford. They shook hands, exchanged a few pleasantries and turned their attention to the voters.Skip to next paragraph
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New Hampshire was also the site of what aides to both men believe was their last face-to-face meeting before Wednesday's debate.
In January 2008, the Republican and Democratic primary candidates were holding back-to-back debates in Manchester. After the Republicans wrapped up, the moderator invited the Democrats waiting in the wings to join them briefly onstage for a brief show of bipartisanship.
Obama and Romney found each other in the scrum. They smiled and shook hands, with Obama placing his hand warmly on Romney's arm.
Obama went on to win the White House. Romney dropped out of the Republican race shortly thereafter.
They've had one direct exchange during the 2012 campaign. Obama called Romney in late May after the Republican clinched the GOP nomination. He congratulated Romney and told him he "looked forward to an important and healthy debate about America's future."
Aides to both men described the call as brief and cordial.
Their scant personal relationship is in many ways the result of potential pathways to the presidency that had little to do with Washington. Obama spent just two years in the Senate before launching his 2008 White House bid. Romney spent most of his career in the private sector and has never worked in the nation's capital.
It's a marked contrast to many of the other political pairs that have faced off against each other for the presidency. Obama and his 2008 GOP rival John McCain, for example, had worked together in the Senate before facing each other in the general election.
Similarly, President George W. Bush and his 2004 Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, knew each other from work in Washington. Same with President Bill Clinton and then-Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican nominee in 1996.
Sara Taylor Fagen, who served as a political adviser to Bush, said Obama and Romney's lack of a personal relationship would likely be a mixed blessing on the debate stage.
"On the one hand, you've depersonalized it. You can say, 'I don't really know you, I'm totally comfortable saying whatever I have to," Fagen said. "On the other hand, familiarity is a really helpful thing. Even though you may be fierce opponents, it also gives you a comfort level."