DAYTON, Ohio – Mitt Romney, making his only appearance of the day here today to encourage storm relief efforts, toed the tricky line of a candidate who sought to offer sympathy to a region of the country in crisis due to the violent storm Sandy while maintaining a public profile just a week ahead of the election.
Romney climbed atop a black box just before noon to address a crowd of supporters, many of whom had planned to come to a so-called “Victory Rally” at this same arena scheduled before the brunt of the storm hit and then swiftly rebranded by the campaign as a “Storm Relief Event.”
“We have heavy hearts as you know with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country,” said Romney, who stood before tables that were being filled with donations of diapers, toothpaste, canned food and flashlights.
Romney did not emerge to his campaign song “Born Free” that is blasted at every rally, emerging instead to cheers from the crowd. And gone were the Romney campaign signs that typically wallpaper the rooms where events of his are held.
But ahead of Romney’s remarks, the campaign’s biography video featuring Romney, his wife Ann, several of his children and other supporters talking about the candidate’s leadership skills did play, the screens then reverting back to a freeze-frame of a plea to donate to the Red Cross.
There were no mentions made of President Obama or the seven days left before Election Day by Romney, but the event notably took place in the battleground state of Ohio, where the candidate’s appearance here today was plugged on local news casts throughout the morning.
And the musical guest originally scheduled for the political rally still came – but Romney said that it was so those sorting the donations would have an “enjoyable work setting.”
Romney recast some of his lines from his stump speech, giving a nod to the “American spirit,” tailoring his comments it to the situation on the East Coast, much of which is not even near emerging from the damaging caused by the hurricane.
“It’s part of the American spirit, the American way to give to people who are in need, and your generosity this morning touches my heart,” said Romney. “And I appreciate what you’ve done. We have a lot of goods here, and I know there’s more coming in.”
Romney helped box and sort food before heading outside to load the items onto trucks that would take the goods to New Jersey, a site that Romney said had been determined had the ability to distribute the items where they would be most needed.
Romney repeatedly ignored questions about his intentions for FEMA if he were elected, questions that stemmed from a comment the candidate made during a debate in 2011 in which he said he’d like to see more of the responsibility of relief efforts put to the states rather than the Federal government.
Romney also ignored questions as to whether he would visit storm-ravaged areas such as New Jersey.
A spokeswoman for Romney said that Romney does not want to cut FEMA, but the candidate himself has not gone on the record on the issue since that debate.
“Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” said Amanda Hennenberg. “As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”