WEST DES MOINES, Iowa Endless repetition is the lifeblood of presidential campaigning.
A candidate's stump speech rarely changes, and when it does, that happens only after careful planning, many meetings and polling.
Years ago, I quoted Democratic campaign consultant David Axelrod as saying: "Here is the rule we follow with our clients when the campaign staff and the reporters become physically ill over the repetition of the message, only then have you begun to penetrate the public consciousness."
Which is why it was striking a few days ago when Mitt Romney, a highly disciplined campaigner, made a major departure from his stump speech at a huge Christmas party here for more than 1,000 people.
I transcribed the departure, and here it is, word for word. To set the scene, Romney had just introduced his son Josh to the crowd, Josh had said a few words and now Romney was speaking:
"When I see Josh there, I think back to a story when he was a really young guy. He and Matt, his older brother, found a bird's nest and it had fallen to the ground, and there were little, tiny birds in it.
"They had no feathers, and their eyes were not open, and they brought it into the house they were little guys and we called the Audubon Society and said, 'Is there anything we can do to help these birds, somehow put the nest back in the tree?'
"And she said, 'No, no, if the birds have been taken off the tree and are on the ground and so forth, the mother will not come back to them.' So Ann [Romney's wife] said, 'Can we feed them? Can we keep them alive?'
"And they said, 'Well, no, if the eyes are not open, the prospects of keeping these birds alive are not very good.'"
"And we said, 'Well, what can we do?'
"And she said, 'If you buy a can of dog food, good-quality dog food, and cut the dog food into little strips like worms, you can feed them with a tweezers and maybe see how well you do.
"Well, these guys kept all five birds alive. And they got them a little bigger and a little bigger and it got to the point where they would hop out of the nest and sort of flop around on the floor and so forth and we called Audubon and said, 'We've got them all alive. What do we do now?'
"And they said, 'Well, take them outside and teach them to fly.'
"And so we said, 'How do we do that?'
"And they said, 'You take the bird and lift it up pretty high in the air and then just throw it up in the air and run out ahead.'
"And so Ann and I looked outside the window and Josh and Matt were out there throwing birds in the air and running down the yard flapping their arms! (Laughter) I don't think the flapping arms was necessary. (Laughter) And the birds followed them wherever they would go. And the birds, of course, learned to fly.
"We kept them outside; they flew all around the yard. And when they came home from school, the birds would fly from across the yard and land on their heads and shoulders. The postman would get a little nervous because it happened to him a couple of times. (Laughter) And these were not gorgeous birds; they are called grackles (laughter) and they were around the house and they would come in the house and finally they became wilder and wilder as time went on, they made their own way.
"But it was interesting to me to see that even a little bird will imprint off a human and will copy a human. They thought that Josh and Matt were the mothers, if you will. The mom and dad. Not sure which was which. (Laughter) But they followed those two. It was interesting to me and my wife to see how much they had become the mothers.
"[When you] think little baby birds will look up to someone else, you can imagine what another human being will do. A parent has an extraordinary impact on their children. I learned that to a certain [extent] in this campaign. I have an 18-month-old grandson who doesn't say bupkis. You know, he says, 'mama,' 'dada' and 'poppa.' That's me, and I am very proud I am the third word, poppa.
"But I have been campaigning with him. I hold him in my left arm and then I shake hands with people and say, 'How do you do? How do you do? How are you? Hi,' and now he goes, when he sees people, he goes up and puts out his hand and he says, "Hi. Hi. Hi. (Laughter)"
"So he is just patterning after his grandpa. It is a very bad sickness. We are going to have to break him of it. (Laughter) It reminded me also, thinking of the Christmas spirit, how we pattern ourselves after one another."
And then Romney continued with his speech. And, yes, you can dismiss this as a silly, meaningless ramble or a calculated attempt for Romney to show his more human and less calculated side.
But I think it was a guy who wanted to tell a family story, found it going a little long, as a lot of family stories do, and then managed to bring it home and make a point and say something about Christmas at a Christmas party.
Besides, the speech was historic for something it revealed: Who knew Romney knew a word like "bupkis"?