Amateur Hour Campaigning

Yesterday, both Presidential campaigns were in full amateur hour mode to such an extent that one wonders if there are actually professionals running these operations. It started out with Mitt Romney, in California, making a secret trip to the former headquarters of Solyndra:

Romney, in the midst of a California swing dedicated largely to fundraising, made a secretive visit to the shuttered headquarters of Solyndra, a solar energy firm that went bankrupt after receiving a $535-million loan guarantee approved by the Obama administration.

“It’s a symbol not of success but of failure. It’s also a symbol of a serious conflict of interest,” Romney told reporters as he stood across the street from the glass building, reiterating a Republican charge that the firm received the loan guarantee because one of its largest investors was a major fundraiser for Obama.

“Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends,” Romney said.

But much of the attention given to the Romney appearance had less to do with his message and more to do with the unusually secretive nature of the event, reminiscent of clandestine presidential trips to unsafe regions around the world. (One could argue that the Bay Area, a bastion of liberalism, would qualify as a hostile region to a GOP presidential candidate.)

The campaign sought to closely guard knowledge of the event. Reporters, who typically receive advance notice about where and when campaign events will occur, were told to gather Thursday morning in a hotel parking lot in Redwood City for a bus trip to an undisclosed location.

The plan didn’t really work — rumors had circulated on Wednesday that Romney would head to Solyndra, and at least seven satellite trucks were awaiting his arrival. And it is hard for a candidate to be subtle when he travels in a motorcade that includes Secret Service agents, California Highway Patrol officers and a large bus emblazoned with his name.

A person affiliated with the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Romney’s operation didn’t want to provide advance notice of the event because of fears that either the Obama administration or people affiliated with Solyndra would try to stop it from taking place. That was a charge Romney reiterated when reporters asked him about the cloak-and-dagger morning.

“This ought to be a big story, and I think there are a number of people among the president’s team who don’t want that story to get out,” he said. “We wanted to make sure it did.”

By the end of the day, the Romney’s move for secrecy was being openly mocked by reporters following the campaign, and deservedly so given the fact that the destination was never really secret to begin with given that the campaign bus was greeted by local reporters and news helicopters when it arrived at the ultimate location. Even worse, though, was the fact that the Romney campaign ended up holding this event shortly after 10am local time, which was was the same time that, back East in Washington, President Obama was hosting Former President Bush and his family for the unveiling of his Presidential portrait. Every single cable network, including Fox News Channel, covered the White House event and essentially ignored Romney’s Solyndra speech. By the time the White House event was over, the rumors about a verdict in the John Edwards case began to circulate, and for the next several hours campaign coverage took a back seat. Now, the Romney campaign couldn’t have had any control over the Edwards news, of course, but did nobody bother to check the White House schedule to see if, oh I don’t know, there might be an event going on that was going to drown them out of the news cycle? It’s only one rally, but it was incredibly poorly executed.

But it wasn’t just the Romney campaign that had an amateur hour day yesterday. Three thousand miles east, the Obama campaign staged one of the oddest campaign rallies I’ve seen in awhile:

The Obama campaign had called a news conference at the statehouse to pick apart Romney’s record on job creation and budgeting during his tenure as Massachusetts governor. The event marked the opening of a new front in Obama’s battle to define Romney, still relatively unknown to some voters.

“Mitt Romney never understood what government was all about,” said John Barrett, former mayor of North Adams, Mass. “Government is not about PowerPoint presentations; it’s about helping people — and not just some of the people.”

But he strained to speak above the chants of Romney supporters. Word of the event had leaked out early, giving the Romney campaign time to stage its own preemptive news conference and bring supporters to the scene.

As mayors and state officials blasted Romney’s record, Romney supporters could be heard loudly chanting “We want Mitt!” and “Where are the jobs?”

At times the chanters nearly drowned out the speakers, who included top Obama advisor David Axelrod.

Axelrod answered the hecklers with a pointed reminder of a Romney campaign aide’s recent statement that the positions he took in the primary would be erased in the coming general election, as if with a child’s toy: “You can shout down speakers, my friends, but it’s hard to Etch-A-Sketch away the truth.”

Who sends David Axlerod to headline a campaign rally? Axelrod is no doubt a top-notch political strategist and he does generally well as a surrogate on television, but he’s never run for political office before and he’s not exactly a great public speaker, as his handling of the hecklers demonstrates. Where was Governor Duvall Patrick, or Elizabeth Warren? Were they so busy that they had to go to the C-List and send Axelrod out there for what was, as with the Romney rally, an event that the media largely ended up ignoring given that it was conflicting with the White House event and the news from the Edwards case?

These are the guys who want to run the country, folks.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Chad S says:

    Mitt’s people heckling an Obama campaign event is weirder then sending Axe to do a campaign event. Mitt just opened the door to being heckled(and his campaign claiming that the “dems have done the same” when no-one can find examples is bizarre).

  2. Heckling is as old as politics itself

  3. Chad S says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Generally not done in a clear organized fashion by the opposing campaign at your opponent’s campaign event.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    Was Axelrod at a press conference as the quoted article said, or at a campaign rally like you said?
    Press Conferences and Campaign Rallys are different things.
    We all know you yearn to seek refuge in BOTH SIDES DO IT cowardice…but you shouldn’t have to resort to making stuff up to do it.

  5. LaMont says:

    These are the guys who want to run the country, folks.

    Correction, Romney is the only one who wants to run the country. Obama is running it. By this coming November will we be better than we were November 2008? How much money do you want to bet that we will be. And Romney’s only defense to this is “yes the economy is better – but it is inspite of Obama’s policies.” What a joke! I understand you’re bias, but trying to equate Romney to Obama is truely funny.

    Besides, Romney is the one that tred to make a big story which ultimately flopped becuase of the White House story. If your premise of Axlerod is correct (which I don’t agree with) that the general consensus of Axlerod is that he is a bad rally headliner, then how do you know that Obama’s campaigne did not intentionally leave some loose ends knowing much of the press would be focused on the White House? The bigger flop to me is what Romeny tried to do. He is the one that “failed”. Yes, I will freely admit that I am biased toward Obama. However, I bet that arguing on his behalf is much easier than arguing on Romney’s behalf. Half of what Romney does and says doesn’t even pass the smell test. Minus the whole Sarah Palin crap, McCain was a better campaigner than Romney is now.

  6. @Chad S:

    Don’t be so naive, Chad. I’ve seen it. There’s no such thing as “spontaneous” hecklers at a campaign event

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Meh. Both campaigns know Main Street hasn’t yet tuned in. Both campaigns know the campaign doesn’t really begin until after the conventions. In September they’ll get serious. Granted, Romney’s campaign will make serious errors right up until Election Day, but Democrats are pros and have been since the days of Tammany Hall; during the fall election season Team Obama certainly will be on their A game.

  8. J-Dub says:

    Ugh, can we get to the debates already?

  9. Gromitt Gunn says:

    So, basically, Mitt’s campaign interns are all gathered at the campaign’s Boston headquarters to get fired up and ready to go, and they managed to interrupt a news conference – *not* a full-blown campaign rally.

    Kudos to them, as I am sure it was a good morale booster, but not sure it is replicable or especially relevant. Those kids will be dispersed within the next month or so to their various field offices. Getting a captive audience of true believers across downtown Boston in an hour and do mass campagin organizing are two different things.

  10. lankyloo says:

    Don’t be so naive, Chad. I’ve seen it. There’s no such thing as “spontaneous” hecklers at a campaign event

    Umm, I’ve spontaneously heckled at a campaign event.

  11. mantis says:

    Who sends David Axlerod to headline a campaign rally?

    Nobody. It was a press conference.

  12. Nikki says:

    Uh…Doug? Did you not read what you linked and quoted?

    The Obama campaign had called a news conference…

    It was a press conference that the Romney campaign decided to heckle. Calling it a campaign event doesn’t change the fact that it was a press conference.

  13. Hey Norm says:

    And Romney admits they sent the hecklers…which seems like something a mid-level staffer might get involved in…but the Candidate???

  14. Jeremy R says:

    Yeah, that’s one of the wierder aspects of the Romney campaign so far that deserves a closer look by the media. They send volunteer staffers from local campaign offices or organize local republicans themselves into protests outside opponents’ events and to heckle, and to in general behave like grass roots opposition. Here’s an example where they sent some folks to picket a Biden speech in NH:

  15. anjin-san says:

    Uh…Doug? Did you not read what you linked and quoted?

    Wait, you want accurate information?

    Time for Doug to tell us he does not respond to trolls and bail.

    The various news crews in the bay area had a good laugh about Romney’s stealth event.