Looking to avoid any appearance of politics amid disaster, Mitt Romney billed his Ohio event on Tuesday as “storm relief” instead of a campaign rally. But politics had a way of crashing of the party.
With the president holed up in the White House monitoring the hurricane response through at least Wednesday, Romney announced yesterday he would refrain from partisan business as usual on the campaign trail. That meant converting an already scheduled rally Tuesday morning in Kettering, Ohio, into a relief drive for Sandy victims.
Still, the election was never entirely removed from the event, according to reports from the scene. Most notably, the event included a biographical video of Romney that typically plays at his rallies. Press badges still referred to a Romney “victory rally.”
Romney delivered only brief remarks focused on the hurricane, recalling how impressed he was with Cape Cod residents who donated to Hurricane Katrina victims while he was governor of Massachusetts.
“Your generosity this morning touches my heart and I appreciate what you’ve done,” he said. “We have a lot of goods here and I know there’s a lot more coming in.”
Romney’s words aside, several reporters who were in attendance, like ABC’s Jonathan Karl, suggested that the atmosphere was still pretty typical of a political rally.
Romney’s event it in Kettering Ohio:This photo says it all — “Obama: You’re Fired an here’s some canned goods” twitter.com/jonkarl/status…— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) October 30, 2012
The hurricane presents a difficult political moment for Romney. He has only days to get out his final campaign message in a tight race, but risks looking insensitive if he returnsto full campaign mode too quickly while the president focuses on relief efforts. While Obama has both the burden and benefit of a clear set of responsibilities — and one that, according to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at least, he’s handling very well — Romney is left trying to find some kind of balance until the campaign returns to normal.
The real test may come Wednesday. Obama is still off the trail then, but Romney is scheduled for events across Florida. If the ongoing damage from the hurricane is still severe, it could present an awkward contrast.
In the meantime, Obama is relying on surrogates to do his campaign work. Bill Clinton is campaigning in Colorado on Tuesday as part of a national tour on the president’s behalf.
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.