Note to candidates: don’t parse ‘quadruple’

Mitt Romney’s Republican presidential campaign ran into a little trouble last week after reports that he’s expanding his oceanfront mansion in Southern California. Romney’s existing 3,000-square-foot luxury home will be bulldozed and replaced with an 11,000-square-foot mansion.

Don’t worry, the existing pool and spa on the property will remain intact.

Even some Republicans said Romney’s remodeling plans are politically tone-deaf, and quadrupling the size of an oceanfront mansion during a presidential campaign seems odd. Romney told Joe McQuaid, however, that the media has misstated some details — it all depends on how one defines “quadruple.”

He may be making progress on the stiffness. And the times I have seen him deal with hecklers, he has been pleasant, but persistent. He makes no bones about making a lot of money in the private sector.

Still, I asked him, why give the media and political foes raw meat right now by filing for permits to tear down a La Jolla, Calif., beach house and quadruple its size? That was the wire story we had run the day before, and it was all over the Internet.

It’s not accurate, Romney said, simply. The application he made, two years ago, was to double the living space by turning one story into two.

Apparently, the project only becomes an 11,000-square-foot mansion if one includes the basement and garage. If not, Romney’s really only doubling the size of the home.

And why don’t the basement and garage count? I don’t know, but apparently that’s the new spin.

Again, just to be clear about this, there are obviously more important issues in this presidential race. What’s more, Romney made an enormous amount of money breaking up companies and laying off thousands of American workers, so it stands to reason that he’ll have the resources to purchase a luxurious residence (or in his case, several). I don’t begrudge him for doing so. Indeed, the fact that Romney is investing heavily in a home renovation project should probably be encouraged — the stimulus is good for the economy.

But there is a political context to all of this, and the story steps on his larger message. As we talked about last week, Romney is effectively arguing, “The president is out of touch with the public’s needs during these difficult economic times. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go look at the plans to quadruple the size of my beach-front mansion in Southern California, before I leave for some Martha’s Vineyard fundraisers. Oh, and did you hear my joke about being unemployed?”

In case anyone’s curious, in addition to the $12 million oceanfront residence, Romney also has a $10 million home in New Hampshire and a townhouse in Belmont, Mass. There’s also the nearby mansion, where one of Romney’s sons lives, and where Romney was registered to vote as recently as last year.

There was also the $5 million ski-house in an exclusive area in Utah, but he sold it last year.