Bob White ’77, Bowdoin trustee and chairman of the Romney-Ryan campaign, spoke last night in Daggett Lounge about life on the campaign trail, preparation for presidential debates, and his years of experience as Mitt Romney’s right-hand man.
White has worked alongside the former governor since Romney began his career at Bain & Company, and has advised all of Romney’s political races. The two have been close friends for years, and Romney jokingly refers to White as “TQ,” short for “The Quail,” in reference to the bobwhite species of the bird.
“As Mitt says, I’m his wingman,” said White in his address at the Republican National Convention.
White is also involved in the politics of Bowdoin. He served on the College’s presidential search committee in 2000, and supported the supported the nomination of President Barry Mills for the position.
“I felt, given the set of opportunities and challenges facing the College, Barry Mills was uniquely qualified,” explained White in an interview with the Orient prior to his talk.
White drew a parallel between Mills and Romney, who he says is “uniquely qualified” for leadership as well.
“I look at the country right now and we have a lot of challenges, both domestically and internationally. We need somebody who can fix the economy and get back jobs,” said White. “I believe Governor Romney has the set of experiences to do so.”
In response to the Obama campaign’s “mischaracterization of Mitt” as cold and heartless, White described how Romney spent time at the bedside of a 14-year-old member of his church who was dying of leukemia.
“He is a man of impeccable integrity from his time at Bain to today,” White said.
Obama and Romney are separated by only a few percentage points in recent polls, which fluctuate daily. However, White claims he focuses on narrative, not numbers.
“I don’t look at the polls,” said White. “Right now we are having a conversation with the country. I think there are two very different visions, two very clear choices for the country.”
White spoke about the frenetic life of the campaign trail to a crowd of 200 last night in Daggett Lounge. He explained part of the vetting process for vice-presidential candidates and the planning and pressure of the nationally-televised presidential debates.
White added that in practice debates, those who stand in for an opponent make a conscious effort to imitate the style as well as argue the policies of the actual opposing candidate. In Romney’s case, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio stood in as Obama.
Although Election Day is still three weeks away, White explained that the campaign is preparing to move forward in the case of a Romney win.
“There will be unprecedented challenges that face whoever wins given what’s happening in the country. Between the election and inauguration, the tax rebates are set to expire and at the same time there will be huge spending cuts,” said White in the interview with the Orient.
At Bowdoin, White was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and said that the campus was much less politically active in his day.
“In the late 70s I would say people were focused on life at Bowdoin and not so focused on the political environment,” said White.
Eighty-four percent of Bowdoin students supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
Republican students at the lecture and at the reception that followed repeatedly referred to feeling “closeted” on Bowdoin’s liberal campus. One attendee said that he hoped Bowdoin students would one day feel comfortable announcing themselves as Republicans.
When asked how a predominantly liberal campus has received him, White said, “I am here as a parent and a trustee.”
According to Politico, there is speculation that White is a contender for a position in a Romney cabinet, potentially as White House Counsel. However, White says he pays little attention to such speculation, and is focused only on the election.
“I haven’t even thought about that. Right now we’re thinking about the next three weeks,” he said.