Romney’s Storm Relief Rally — Struggling for Perfect Sandy Pitch

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mitt Romney accepts a food donations from a supporter during a Kettering Storm Relief event on Oct. 30, 2012 in Kettering, Ohio.

With a storm still pummeling the eastern United States, Mitt Romney struggled to strike the right tone before supporters in Kettering, Ohio, today.

Standing in front of tables loaded with diapers, canned goods and bottled water, Romney jettisoned his standard stump speech — and any mention of President Barack Obama — to solicit help for those affected the storm.

“We have heavy hearts, as you know, with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country,” he said “Your generosity this morning touches my heart.”

With Obama off the campaign trail overseeing the federal emergency response to Hurricane Sandy, now a post-tropical cyclone spinning inland and leaving flooding and wreckage in its path, Romney faced the challenge of appearing presidential — and not political.

His campaign transformed a previously scheduled rally into a “storm relief event,” where they collected supplies for victims of Sandy. Last night, aides pulled down campaign signs and called supporters to tell them the tone of today’s event would sound less like a typical political rally and more like a charity event. Television screens that would normally show the campaign logo displayed instructions about how text a donation to the American Red Cross.

“No photos. No autographs,” a campaign aide shouted, as supporters filed past Romney to drop their donations on the table. The campaign, too, contributed, buying some food and other supplies with their political dollars.

Still, with just a week left before the election, politics seeped into the event, held at the same arena and with the same celebrity guests — county music star Randy Owen — as the initially-planned campaign rally. As supporters waited for the candidate to arrive, his campaign played the biographical video touting Romney’s record that often precedes his appearances at campaign rallies.

Romney, too, reminded voters of his leadership experience, recounting how he welcomed victims of Hurricane Katrina to Cape Cod as governor of Massachusetts.

“We’re looking for all the help we can get for all the families that need,” he said.

Yet most supporters, many wearing campaign pins, came seeking a different kind of help from Romney.

“This was a chance to see the next president of the United States,” said John Ward, a retiree from Springboro, Ohio. “It’s critical we get Obama out of office.”

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