Cookies take bite out of Romney campaign

Candidate gets egg on his face over quip

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Do Pittsburghers cling to their cookies?

Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama caught a lot of flak four years ago when he made comments about rural Americans who "cling to guns or religion," and now it's Mitt Romney who has made the ultimate Pittsburgh faux pas by dissing a beloved local bakery.

Still, the owners of Bethel Bakery say they think the former Massachusetts governor was just kidding when he brushed off a platter of their cookies with a disparaging remark. Nonetheless, owner John Walsh managed to capitalize on what is being termed, tongue-in-cheek, as "CookieGate" by offering a free half-dozen cookies to customers who purchase a dozen at the regular price.

"I'm not sure about these cookies," Mr. Romney said during a staged roundtable meeting at the Bethel Park Community Center Tuesday, where a platter of Bethel Bakery cookies were among the trays of food laid out on a picnic table. "They came from the local 7-Eleven bakery or whatever."

The resulting firestorm on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter was instant, with insulted fans of the 57-year-old bakery taking to local talk radio shows and Internet blogs to express their outrage.

Among them was Republican congressional candidate Evan Feinberg, who summed the miniscandal up on Twitter: "Huge mistake. Bethel Bakery is an institution around here!"

"I was a little shocked," said Julie Lytle, the bakery's sales and marketing assistant. "I didn't think too much of it at the time, and I didn't think it would blow up like it has. We decided to have fun with it and not to get offended."

Ms. Lytle prepared the assortment of five dozen cookies that were rebuffed by the former governor, and she and Mr. Walsh said they thought that if Mr. Romney had tried a cookie, he would have been won over.

Mr. Walsh said he's a Republican but hasn't decided who to vote for in the next week's primary election.

Now he's hoping to persuade Mr. Romney to try some of his baked goods the next time he is in the area.

"I think that we just need to make him a Bethel Bakery fan," Mr. Walsh said. "He had no idea he was half a mile from one of the most beloved institutions in this area."

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Janice Crompton: or 412-851-1867.


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