The Romney campaign’s seemingly charitable decision Tuesday to suddenly change a scheduled victory rally in Ohio into a storm-relief event in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is being criticized by pundits as a staged photo opportunity.
The campaign’s communications director, Gail Gitcho, released a statement the morning before the event, announcing that the rally had been canceled “out of sensitivity to the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy.” Several hours later, it was followed with another announcement that the existing location in Dayton, Ohio would be used for a nonpartisan “storm relief event” instead.
Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins writes, “It would be a way for Romney to show leadership – and get on the local news – without looking craven or opportunistic.”
Unfortunately for the candidate, though, that’s exactly how his efforts were perceived.
As campaign aides rushed to transform the venue into a non-partisan donations drop-off site where residents could bring items like canned goods and water, some were concerned there wouldn’t be a large enough community response to the event. One staffer told Buzzfeed that in an attempt to make the storm-relief successful, some aides were sent to a local Wal-Mart where they spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food and diapers to be displayed on tables as they waited for donations from community members.
The campaign confirmed with the website that it did “donate supplies to the relief effort,” but there was no specification on how much was spent.
It turns out they had nothing to worry about, as residents in the area showed up with an overwhelming amount of donations.
“We were incredibly pleased with the outpouring of support we received from volunteers and generous contributors from southwest and central Ohio,” said Christopher Maloney, Romney’s Ohio spokesman, adding, “We’re pleased that Ohio could play a role, albeit a minor one, in the relief effort.”
When Romney arrived, he gave a short speech to the crowd of about 2,000, expressing concern for the storm’s victims and avoiding blatantly political talk, before heading to stand behind a table with Ohio Senator Rob Portman, where he received donations and shook attendees’ hands.
Reporters in attendance weren’t buying it.
Ari Sharipo, a White House correspondent for NPR, tweeted, “Lots of Qs in the press corps today on how Romney’s OH “storm relief event” is diff from a “campaign event.” Same venue, same celeb guests.”