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.