If you sat through President Obama's 50-something-minute economic address this afternoon, you didn't hear much in the way of new themes or proposals. But you did hear Obama refer to his Republican opponent as "Mr. Romney" on eight separate occasions, and that is somewhat new.
A search on both the White House website and Nexis shows that, prior to today, Obama had spoken of "Mr. Romney" a total of just eight times since the start of 2011, and seven of them came over the past month. (The other was in a September 2011 interview with Matt Lauer.) Other than those eight instances, it's been all "Governor Romney," all the time.
It's a small and fairly inconsequential change, but surely a deliberate one. "Governor Romney" communicates an innate credibility and legitimacy that "Mr. Romney" lacks. Hell, every man in the country is a mister. They're nothing special. The guy who walked out of a stall and left the bathroom without washing his hands is a mister. That guy who fell asleep on the subway with his mouth open is a mister. "Mr. Romney" is just another dude.
At the same time, "Mr." is actually the more appropriate honorific here, according to Robert Hickey, deputy director of the Protocol School of Washington and author of Honor & Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address. On his website, he writes:
Only a Governor in office is formally and officially addressed as Governor (name). The reason? There is only one Governor at a time, and it's not respectful of the current office holder to refer to former office holders as if they were still in office. I know we hear newscasters referring to former governors as "Governor." But it is incorrect.
However, even though "Mr. Romney" may be perfectly acceptable, the fact that Obama used to say "Governor Romney" exclusively makes the switch to "Mr. Romney" seem like an intentional slight. This race is getting heated, you guys.