Mitt Romney's California beach house has been in the news because of renovation plans that include a car elevator.
Courtesy Politico
Mitt Romney's California beach house has been in the news because of renovation plans that include a car elevator.

Story highlights

Romney spends Easter weekend at his beach house in La Jolla, California

Will pictures showing him in the posh environment be a political liability?

His campaign staff says it doesn't see a problem: He spent a weekend with his family

GOP strategist: "In America, being successful and being wealthy is a good thing"

CNN —  

It’s not the way most Americans spent Easter weekend, but then again, most Americans aren’t Mitt Romney. And that’s the potential problem that will be leveraged against him in the battle for the White House.

The former Massachusetts governor and likely Republican presidential nominee spent the past few days with his family at his beach house in expensive and exclusive La Jolla, California. That’s the same three-bedroom home, purchased for $12 million four years ago, that has made headlines over the past couple of years after reports of plans for a major remodeling and expansion.

The home was in the media spotlight again just a few weeks ago, amid reports that the proposed renovations, which would quadruple the size of the structure, included an auto elevator for a four-car garage.

Romney’s GOP presidential campaign released a photo on Friday of Mitt and wife Ann Romney decorating Easter eggs with their grandchildren. On Sunday, Romney’s son Matt tweeted out a photo of the family taking part in an Easter egg hunt on the expansive lawn belonging to their next-door neighbor.

Also over the weekend, a photo of Romney walking across the beach, wearing a wetsuit and holding a boogie board, made its way onto the political blogs. A day later, in response, son Matt, who’s seen in the beach picture with his father, tweeted “water temp was low 60s. I was freezing in my full-length wetsuit. Guess my dad was just happy to be out there.”

Are the photos much ado about nothing? Or are they an example of a candidate who might be tone-deaf to how most of the public actually lives.

In 2004, opponents used images of then-Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts windsurfing to tag him an elitist, lumping in windsurfing with some of his other expensive pastimes, including skiing and flying himself between vacation homes.

But boogie-boarding is not an expensive hobby, and a source close to the Romney campaign says it doesn’t see a problem with the photos, and that like millions of other Americans, Romney spent the holiday weekend with his family.

“We had 11 of our grandkids staying with us and three of my boys and three of their, of course, their spouses,” Romney said Monday, describing his weekend in an interview on former Arkansas governor and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s radio program. “We had the Easter egg roll over the neighbor’s lawn. He has a big lawn we use. We made Easter eggs, we went swimming and surfing in the water. We are in California. It is absolutely delightful.”

Romney made millions at Bain Capital, the investment firm he founded in 1984, and at Bain and Company, a management firm he eventually ran. According to a financial disclosure form released by his campaign last year, Romney has assets totaling $190 million to $250 million in value.

He made $42.7 million over the past two years and paid $6.2 million in taxes, according to tax documents released earlier this year by his campaign. Mitt and Anne Romney filed a joint 1040 reporting $21.7 million in 2010 income and $3 million in federal taxes. They also said their 2011 income was $21 million and the tax bill was $3.2 million.

Besides the beach home in La Jolla, Romney owns a property along Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. He used to own a multimillion-dollar ski home in exclusive Deer Valley, Utah.

The “rich guy” and “Wall Street” images were issues for Romney when he first ran for the GOP presidential nomination four years ago. This time around, Romney has been more casual, often shedding the suit for a less buttoned-up look.

But he was attacked earlier in this primary season by rival Republican candidates, including Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, over his wealth.

According to a CNN/ORC International poll released two weeks ago, Republicans nationwide said that Santorum cares more about average Americans than Romney by 47% to 34%.

On the campaign trail, Romney talks bluntly about his financial status, saying, “I’ve been very successful and I’m not going to apologize for that.”

And GOP strategist Ana Navarro says the worst thing Romney can do is be insincere.

“The worst thing Romney can do is pretend to be what he’s not. We all know he’s a wealthy man. He’s a successful man. He’s made his money. He doesn’t need to apologize about it and the best he can do is embrace it, accept it, and not be awkward about it,” Navarro told CNN.

“It’s part of a package deal and – let’s face it – we live in America. In America, being successful and being wealthy is a good thing, not something we resent,” she added.

Another GOP strategist said Romney’s success should be admired.

“The fact of the matter today, though, is that the American people are hurting. They’re worried about their financial future, they’re worried about their kids’ financial future, and they look at Mitt Romney, who is a self-made guy and very successful, very successful over a number of different enterprises, and I think he’s the kind of guy that the American people can look at and say we need this kind of success as a country,” said Gentry Collins, who served as political director for both the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association and who ran Romney’s 2008 operations in Iowa, but who says he is neutral this cycle.

Will photos of Romney on the beach, or at the La Jolla beach house, be used by the Democratic National Committee or the Obama re-election campaign? Stay tuned.

But Democrats are already making an issue of Romney’s wealth through his opposition to the so-called “Buffett Rule,” a push by the president and congressional Democrats to get those making more than $1 million a year to pay a higher percentage of their income in federal income and payroll taxes than those who make less.

The bill is named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has argued that it’s unfair that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. The measure would require that millionaires pay at least 30% of their income in taxes.

The legislation is opposed by most Republicans, and the Obama re-election team is targeting Romney for his opposition.

“Romney supports tax policies that reward people like him, and now he’s just trying to obscure just how much he would benefit,” said Obama re-election campaign manager Jim Messina, in a conference call Monday. “… Our message to Mitt is simple: If you don’t have anything to hide, release your taxes just like every other candidate for president.”

CNN Senior Correspondent Joe Johns contributed to this report.