CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Mitt Romney calls it the "advice line."
Stop after stop, day after day, the Republican presidential nominee steps away from the podium that's set up for his campaign speech and down from the platform that's raised above the crowd. He walks forward to the metal barriers that separate him from his audience, where grinning supporters wave their iPhone cameras and reach out their hands in hopes of touching the man who could become the 45th president of the United States.
And while they're at it, they try to give him an earful. "Come to Iowa more often," one man yells as Romney passes by during a campaign stop on a recent October evening. The supporter, clad in a Romney-Ryan T-shirt, didn't quite get close enough for a handshake; Romney looks his way, and just grins.
Shaking hands, kissing babies, signing autographs — the "rope line" has been a staple of presidential politics for decades. But cellphone cameras, the Internet and modern security threats have turned what used to be a low-risk chance to get up close and personal with voters into a carefully guarded exercise fraught with opportunities for a candidate to mess up.
"Thank you! Thanks, you guys!" Romney typically repeats, over and over again, grinning widely and sometimes throwing his head back with a laugh. "You're great!"
Romney's campaign recognizes that the rope line is full of pitfalls for a candidate who sometimes says exactly the wrong thing. It was, after all, on the rope line in 2008 that President Barack Obama encountered Joe Wurzelbacher, the plumber who thought Obama's tax plan would hurt his small business. Obama responded, "When you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody" — a conversation immediately immortalized on YouTube.
Recording an exchange like that after a Romney rally wouldn't be easy. "It's a high school prom, it's a Springsteen song, it's a ride in a Chevrolet" — the lyrics to Rodney Atkins "It's America" blare over the sound system. At the recent stop in Cedar Rapids, it echoed inside the cavernous airplane hangar where Romney had just finished speaking, making it nearly impossible to hear any of his brief exchanges with voters.
In the earlier months of the campaign, the din didn't seem to stop the people who do get close from trying to tell Romney what they think he should be doing differently, or what he should be talking more about, or who should be a more visible surrogate out on the campaign trail (Ann Romney is a frequent crowd favorite).