Paul Ryan Balances Storm Relief with Politics Just Seven Days Out
La Crosse, Wisc. - Paul Ryan cancelled three events in the battleground state of Colorado on Tuesday to thank volunteers in his home state of Wisconsin who were distributing goods for people affected by superstorm Sandy.
But that doesn't mean the campaign disappeared.
It's a tricky job the GOP vice presidential nominee has, of scrubbing official political events but still wanting to express empathy and not look overly political to the millions suffering from Sandy's wrath - and getting local coverage of the photo op critical to viewers in swing states who may still be making up their mind. (Mitt Romney, in Dayton, Ohio, today, faced the same delicate balance.)
At his first stop Tuesday, just hours after Sandy slammed into the Eastern seaboard leaving billions of dollars in destruction and at least 51 people dead, according to the Associated Press, Ryan thanked volunteers who were waving Romney/Ryan signs and gathering canned goods, water and other non-perishable items to be driven to New Jersey.
Along with wife Janna and brother Tobin, he shook hands and said, "This is what Americans do."
"We've got a lot of our fellow Americans in the Northeast who are hurting right now," Ryan said. "Let's keep the people who are suffering in our thoughts and prayers."
Ryan noted that Romney has spoken to "governors in the area." A Romney spokesperson said yesterday that the GOP presidential nominee had been in contact with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Both are Republicans and surrogates on the trail, although this morning Christie poured praise on the president, saying he had done an "outstanding" job during Sandy.
Dressed in his red North Face jacket, Ryan asked volunteers not to "forget about the Red Cross… They need donations. If you have the ability to give blood, that's something else they need as well. So we just want to come and thank you for what they do in the victory center every day."
A Ryan aide told reporters the Wisconsin congressman had donated to Red Cross at some point last night or today.
In signs of how politics still raised its head today, Ryan was joined by Wisconsin senate candidate and former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson as well as Wisconsin native Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus. And the Romney campaign sent out a press releasing announcing Ryan's arrival at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, a 30-minute drive from the vice presidential candidate's second stop of the day in Hudson, Wis. The brief walk off the plane from Ryan will be on local news channels in Minnesota, a state ABC News just moved Monday from "safe" for the president to "lean Obama." And this evening, Ryan, wife Janna, Priebus and others had dinner at Dan O'Gara's Grill in St. Paul, local and national news crews in tow.
Minneapolis today also witnessed an appearance by Obama's explainer-in-chief, former president Bill Clinton, who made a strong case for Obama's re-election in an address met by loud cheers at the University of Minnesota. It was a sign that the state is more in play than it's been.
Both campaigns are advertising there. As of last Friday, the Obama campaign had placed a $511,000 television ad buy on broadcast stations in Minneapolis for 12 days - Oct. 27 through Nov. 6 - according to a source tracking spending on the airwaves. The Romney campaign also went up on the air in the Minneapolis-St. Paul media market, reserving time from last Saturday through Tuesday. Ad tracking sources say that buy was small - $30,000 - and marked the first time Romney has placed ads in Minnesota during the general election.
At the event, Ryan was also asked about his House-passed budget proposal, which suggested $11 billion for "Community and Regional Development," a government function that includes FEMA and disaster relief. The president's was $19 billion. It's not possible to say exactly how much of those cuts would be directed at FEMA since the budget proposal is a broad outline, but when asked about it at the LaCrosse campaign office, Ryan didn't answer, ignoring the question.
Ryan's spokesperson Michael Steel said, "There are no FEMA cuts in the House-passed budget.
"And if you are comparing this to the president's budget, I would note it got zero votes in the House or Senate," Steel said.
Steel would not comment on Romney's statement at a 2011 debate, in which Romney said he'd like to see more of the responsibility of relief efforts put to the states rather than the federal government, something Romney himself also wouldn't comment on at a similar event in Ohio on Tuesday.
Another Ryan spokesperson, Brendan Buck, said Ryan does support federal assistance for disasters and called the issue nothing more than politics.
"Paul Ryan believes providing aid to victims of natural disasters is a critical obligation and should be treated as a high priority within a fiscally responsible budget," Buck said. "It's sad that some see these heartbreaking events as opportunities to distort his record and play politics. A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period."
Ryan returns to true campaigning tomorrow with a three-stop tour of Wisconsin on Wednesday. He will end the day in his hometown of Janesville to spend Halloween trick or treating with his three young children.
ABC News' Michael Falcone and Zach Wolf contributed reporting.
This story has been updated.