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Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 8:06 a.m.

Rich man, poor dog

Mitt Romney can't get past the Seamus story. In 1983, Romney put the family dog in a carrier on the roof of his Chevy as his wife, their five sons and their luggage squeezed in to the station wagon for a vacation. The dog got diarrhea. Romney has not figured out how to put the 29-year-old story behind him. So critics continue to use the episode as the defining anecdote about the GOP hopeful.
Last month, conservatives unearthed a passage in Barack Obama's book "Dreams from My Father." Obama wrote that his Indonesian stepfather introduced him to eating dog and that dog meat is "tough."
Did Obama go on the defensive? No, he took ownership of the tale. At the Correspondents' Association dinner last week, Obama cracked two jokes about eating Fido. In reference to Sarah Palin, Obama asked, "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?" Answer: "A pit bull is delicious."
And: "My stepfather always told me, 'It's a boy-eat-dog world out there.'"
Political campaigns get into trouble when they try to paint the candidate as someone he (or she) isn't. By being cool, Obama blew the oxygen out of the story.
The Romney camp keeps trying to set up Mitt as a regular guy who can relate to American families. But he can't do small talk. At a recent sit-down in Pennsylvania, Romney told his hostess he had doubts about the cookies she was serving. He said they looked as if "they came from the local 7-Eleven bakery or whatever." It turns out a beloved local bakery made the cookies.
Team Romney should give it up. Let Romney be Thurston Howell III. Let him call Ann "Lovey" and talk with his jaw clenched.
Or let him follow the Steve Jobs model. The two men have parallels. Jobs was a vegan; Romney is a teetotaler. Both have criticized Washington's excessive regulations as job killers. According to Walter Isaacson's biography, Jobs even told Obama to his face that he was heading for a one-term presidency. Jobs didn't try to pretend that he wasn't rich or successful. He reveled in it.
Instead of chatting about baked goods, Romney should be blabbing about Bain Capital's amazing return on investment -- an average annual rate of 88 percent over 15 years, according to "The Real Romney," a biography written by two Boston Globe reporters.
A week ago, Obama appeared on NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," where he "slow jammed" the news in a bit about student loans. On Saturday, Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told a Washington Post forum, "I do think there was something a little bit off-key about the president slow jamming and appearing to make light of the fact that students are struggling." Romney, Fehrnstrom added, would have declined to do that skit.
No, the response should be that Romney has decided he doesn't have to do comedy. He pays his aides top dollar so they can tell his jokes.
As for the Seamus episode, there's no point in telling reporters about how crowded the family station wagon was or about the shield Romney assembled to protect the Irish setter from the wind. Or that dogs traveling on passenger planes probably experience a similar amount of stress.
If he had it to do over, Romney should say, he would have hired a car and driver for his dog. The public would get that.
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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