Romney’s hurricane photo-op

1 Nov

The photo-op is a time-honored staged event for a politician.

They all think it’s a great way to show you how compassionate, hard-working or interested they are.

And you generally buy it.

It was a last-minute decision by the Romney campaign.

Stash the politics during Hurricane Sandy and do something showing he cares.

Campaign workers in Ohio scrambled to convert a scheduled victory rally into a “storm relief event”.

Here’s how it all came down.

Monday morning – the campaign in Dayton was gearing up to host Mitt Romney the next day.

A high school gym was reserved, a stage had been rented, and a pair of celebrity guests had been booked.

Then – just before noon, headquarters announced the cancellation of “all events currently scheduled” for that next day “out of sensitivity to the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy.”

But no one wanted to lose a full day of political visibility with a week left in the race.

So, after some discussion, the campaign decided to use the gym and stage for a makeshift and “nonpartisan humanitarian project”.

It would be a way for Romney to show leadership — and get on the local news — without looking opportunistic.

A couple of hours later the press release went out announcing the time and location of a “storm relief event”.

As the hurricane made landfall in New Jersey, Romney’s campaign jet carried the him, his staff and the press corps, back to Ohio after an afternoon rally in Davenport, Iowa.

Meanwhile, back in Dayton, people were feverishly to depoliticize the planned event.

Campaign signs were taken down, long rows of folding tables were set up, and areas arranged to accommodate donations from the public.

It took a lot of campaign workers a lot of time and a lot of work.

The plan was for people to bring hurricane relief supplies and hand them to Romney who would be sitting behind a table along with a slew of volunteers and Ohio Senator Rob Portman.

To complete the project and photo-op, Romney would lead his crew in carrying the donated goods out of the gym and into a big truck parked outside.

But wait.
What would happen if hardly anyone came and they’d ended up with an empty truck?

So the night before the event, our campaign workers went to a local Wal-Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in.

That’s according to one staffer, and the campaign confirmed that it “did donate supplies to the relief effort.”

Meanwhile, at the senior levels of the campaign, thoughts were turning to how all of this would look.

So, they decided Romney would dump his normal stump speech and replace it with brief remarks on the spirit of volunteerism.

The band would still play but there would be no cheerleading for Romney.

Now – showtime.

Some of the campaign workers were actually surprised, and pleased, by the generosity of the people dropping by.

But no plan ever works out perfectly.

Reporters arrived early – before the candidate – and were handed press badges describing the event as a “victory rally”.

Oops.

Just a few minutes later, two large screens near the ceiling lit up with a glossy, 10-minute biographical video about Mittens.

Why yes, it’s the same one that ran at the Republican National Convention.

The major network reporters, many of whom had spent the night before glued to hotel television sets watching their hometown of New York get ravaged by the hurricane, were a bit upset over the hints of politics at the event and took to Twitter to voice their opinion.

By the time Romney’s motorcade rolled up to the gym, things had settle down a bit with the screens showing Red Cross donation information, and grocery bags stuffed with supplies piled up in a corner.

Romney kept his speech brief, talking about a time in high school when he and his classmates had to clean up a football field covered in garbage.

That relating to the folks.

Just when it looked like they pulled it off, a volunteer in a Romney/Ryan T-shirt stood near the tables yelled, “You need a donation to get in line!”

When people said they just came to see the candidate without any food, the volunteer waved to a pile of groceries stacked nearby, “Just grab something.”

People grabbed something and handed it to Romney.

He took them, smiled, said “Thank you”.

And then left a bit later.

We’re so cynical.

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