The lunchtime speech was delivered from the 30-yard line before 1,200 suited-up business leaders in folding chairs, in a stadium that usually holds 65,000. And his address to members of the Detroit Economic Club contained ideas the former Massachusetts governor has spelled out before.
One new tidbit came when Romney strayed from his prepared remarks to note that he has four cars, including his wife’s “couple of Cadillacs” — casually reminding voters in this economically depressed state of his wealth.
Romney was trying to show that he was gaining the upper hand in a contentious battle with Rick Santorum going into Tuesday’s Michigan primary. Santorum laid out his agenda for his first 100 days in office during an evening campaign stop in Michigan before jetting to Tennessee, a sign that he is also looking ahead to the following week’s Super Tuesday contests.
But at a moment when Romney wanted to project bigness and command, the optics of Ford Field did not help.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Romney’s state campaign chairman, told reporters that Romney “lit up the house at Ford Field.”
Even Romney would probably not agree with that conclusion. He began his speech by warning his audience that it would be heavy on policy. “This is not exciting and barnburning, but it’s important,” he said. The crowd’s polite applause was lost in the silence that filled the massive indoor stadium.
Campaign officials said they were not responsible for the selection of Ford Field, and one adviser said he was “frustrated” that the speech was given in such a huge venue.
“I guess we had a hard time finding a large-enough place to meet — and this certainly is,” Romney said.
Some Republicans thought it was a bit too large.
“The pictures of an empty Ford Field are not helping Romney,” tweeted conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. “Poor staging and tepid response from hometown crowd.”
And this was Rush Limbaugh’s response on the air Friday: “Oh, look. Romney said his wife drives a couple of Cadillacs. . . . That’s how you relate to the people in Detroit.”
Democrats tweaked Romney for his showing all day. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt tweeted, “Romney speaks to empty stadium at monument to industry he would have let go,” while Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse e-mailed reporters a photo under the subject line, “They Just Can’t Get Enough of Mitt.”
The Detroit Economic Club arranged the event and sold tickets for it ($45 for members; $75 for non-members), and when two indoor venues sold out quickly, club officials moved the speech to Ford Field.