Mitt Romney’s big speech in Michigan Friday was delivered before a crowd that organizers pegged at roughly 1,200.
Apparently the seats had sold out so fast that the campaign had been obliged to shift from its initial venue to a larger space. The site they found was the enormous Ford Field Stadium. The problem: it seats 65,000 people. So early-on the campaign was faced with the issue of how to make it look like he wasn’t addressing a near-empty arena.
Their solution was to set up the seats in the middle of the field. However, despite those efforts, a live feed of the event clearly showed tens of thousands of unfilled seats and Romney’s speech had an audible echo as his voice bounced around the cavernous space.
In his opening remarks Romney referenced the size of the venue.
“I guess we had a tough time finding a large enough place to meet, and this certainly is,” he joked.
But humor didn’t prevent people from picking up the story. On Twitter, reporters from across the spectrum seemed far more interested in the optics of the event than the substance of Romney’s speech, in which he called for lower tax rates and entitlement spending as part of a broad reform package he released this week.
Conservative columnist Byron York of the Washington Examiner posted a brutal long distance shot of the 98% empty stadium. Neil King of the Wall Street Journal put up a photo of empty seats by Romney’s stage as well.
Empty seats are never a good look for a presidential speech, let alone one billed as a major address, but in Romney’s case the optics are made worse by the fact that he’s competing to unseat a president who has a history of filling stadiums with enthusiastic supporters. John McCain ran into a similar media frenzy in 2008 after delivering a widely panned speech before a small audience in front of a lime green background the same night that Barack Obama celebrated clinching the nomination.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.