When is a campaign event not a campaign event? When it’s billed as “disaster relief” instead.
Mitt Romney’s campaign announced Monday that out of "sensitivity" to those affected by Sandy, he’d cancelled a campaign event for Tuesday in Kettering, Ohio, which had been scheduled to include former NASCAR champion Richard Petty and Alabama lead singer Randy Owen.
Instead, Romney appeared at a “disaster relief” event in … Kettering, Ohio. And he was joined by—you guessed it—former NASCAR champion Richard Petty and Alabama lead singer Randy Owen.
The badge for today’s “storm relief event” says “victory rally“; the sign on the door described the event as a “campaign rally“; they’re playing the campaign warm-up songs for the audience; and before the “storm relief event” could begin, campaign officials showed the official campaign video on Romney’s awesomeness.
All morning, reporters on the scene have been writing and tweeting the many signs of a campaign in action. Politico's James Hohmann tweeted: "So far Romney OH disaster relief event has every touchstone of a normal political rally." Jonathan Karl of ABC News tweeted the image of two women at the event—one holding a t-shirt telling President Obama he’s fired, and another holding canned goods. And NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro noted that Romney began with the campaign video, “touting his record as a leader & a problem-solver.”
The New York Times reports that on local television, an Ohio Republican official said the event was “not a campaign event per se.”
Romney delivered brief remarks focused on victims of the storm, and his gratitude for the relief efforts. “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.”
The goods collected at the event will be headed to New Jersey to help storm victims, per the Romney campaign.
Helping those affected is a good thing, no matter what your political stripe. But coming from a candidate who called it “immoral” to continue spending federal money on disaster relief, it’s an odd thing to stage a “storm relief” event in place of a planned political rally to raise a few donations — and to do it in a largely unaffected area of Ohio, and show his campaign video, folks.
Oh, and by the way: the Red Cross says it doesn’t want donations, which only “impede the valuable resources of money, time, and personnel.”
Update: Questioned about his earlier FEMA comments after today's event, Romney didn't respond. More on that here.
Update: McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed published a thorough breakdown of the event on Wednesday, including the detail that Romney's campaign, per a staffer, spent about $5,000 at Walmart for supplies for fear they'd have an empty donation truck at their "storm relief" event. Also, this troubling anecdote:
As supporters lined up to greet the candidate, a young volunteer in a Romney/Ryan T-shirt stood near the tables, his hands cupped around his mouth, shouting, "You need a donation to get in line!"Empty-handed supporters pled for entrance, with one woman asking, "What if we dropped off our donations up front?"The volunteer gestured toward a pile of groceries conveniently stacked near the candidate. "Just grab something," he said.Two teenage boys retrieved a jar of peanut butter each, and got in line. When it was their turn, they handed their "donations" to Romney. He took them, smiled, and offered an earnest "Thank you."