KETTERING, Ohio — Mitt Romney kicked off an event here in the battleground of Montgomery County, Ohio, on Tuesday morning, one day after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast, devastating parts of New Jersey and New York.
The stop was billed as a “storm relief” event, and attendees were asked to bring non-perishable foods and other items for those affected by the storm. Long white tables to one side of the cavernous James S. Trent Arena were piled high with flashlights, batteries, diapers, toothbrushes, mini-deodorants, fleece blankets, cereal, toilet paper and canned goods.
Two large TV screens at the front of the venue bore the logo of the American Red Cross and the message: “Sandy: Support the Relief Effort. Text ’REDCROSS’ to 90999 to make a $10 donation.”
But there remained many trappings of a campaign rally, including the soundtrack and a biographical Romney video.
Romney stood on a chair and spoke for less than five minutes. As throngs of supporters, reporters and TV cameras surrounded him, Romney made note of the items on the tables behind him.
“We’re going to box these things up in just a minute and put them on some trucks, and then we’re going to send them into, I think it’s New Jersey. There’s a site we’ve identified where we can take these goods and distribute them to people who need them,” he said.
He related a story of cleaning up a field after a high school football game, and told the crowd that he remembered when some Katrina evacuees were brought to Cape Cod — a destination that was much colder, he joked, than Houston, where the evacuees thought they were originally headed.
“And you know what? There were cars lined up, people dropping off all sorts of goods of all kinds, some things that were temporary like food, but others that were permanent like TV sets and clothes. It was just amazing to see the turnout. Its part of the American way,” Romney said.
As he wrapped up his remarks, Romney said that “to make this an enjoyable work setting, we’ve asked a great entertainer, Randy Owen, of Alabama, to be here. He’s an extraordinary guy.” Owen was scheduled to be a featured guest at the original rally, scheduled for the same venue, at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
He joked that the canned goods and other donations were a “cover charge” for supporters to hear the band’s performance. And then he hopped down from the trunk and, while the band played, he and Portman helped to put items in bags.
A pool reporter asked Romney nearly half a dozen times whether he would eliminate FEMA as president; each time, Romney ignored the question.
After about half an hour, Romney had exited. Many supporters began streaming out of the venue just after Romney had wrapped up his remarks.
Among them was Mary McGirr, a 63-year-old retired professor and Romney supporter from southern Dayton.
“I thought it was very appropriate,” McGirr said of the event. “I thought it was very presidential — not political. I think it gave people a feeling of helping out.”
Later Tuesday, Romney was expected to head to Tampa, Fla.