Storm, accident cloud Romney’s Sunshine State visit
By: Maggie Haberman
October 27, 2012 05:19 PM EDT
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Hurricane Sandy forced Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to shuffle his final-days campaign schedule, canceling three planned Virginia events and shifting his time to Ohio instead after a flyaround in Florida, where early voting kicked off Saturday.
The storm added an air of uncertainty to the closing days of the race for both campaigns. In Romney’s case, the campaign had not laid out a full list of events for the final week, and has instead been targeting events a few days out.
The question mark that Sandy presented for the campaigns came on a day when Romney, barnstorming through Florida, touted bipartisanship as his surrogates threw red meat to the partisan crowd.
He was joined by Sen. Marco Rubio at his two earlier stops, but the Florida senator left the motorcade by police car en route to the third event after learning his 12-year-old daughter had sustained a head injury in a collision while traveling as a passenger in a golf cart. She was said to be in fair condition after being airlifted to a hospital, according to a Rubio aide’s statement.
For Romney, the upheaval of the coming storm means that rather than head to a state where most polls have shown a tight race with President Barack Obama – Virginia – he will now go to Ohio and appear with vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, aides said.
The move was made out of “caution” so as not to distract emergency personnel working on the ground in Virginia and dealing with the storm, which is expected to wreak havoc on residents up and down the East Coast early next week, Romney spokesman Rick Gorka said.
The practical reality for both candidates is in dealing with the storm in a careful way. But Obama has the advantage of being able to visit storm-ravaged areas as president. Obama’s events Saturday were dotted with briefing calls related to the storm. And in every state, both candidates are running low on time to make their final cases.
Romney, who did not discuss the pending storm during his first stop at a rally in Pensacola, told the packed crowd at an airport hangar in Kissimmee for his second event that he had spoken to Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who had said the first responders there need to keep their eyes on storm readiness.
“I hope you’ll keep … the folks in Virginia and New Jersey and New York and all along the coast in your minds and in your hearts,” Romney told the crowd, to applause. “You know how tough these hurricanes can be and our hearts goes out to them.”
It’s the second time that a hurricane has disrupted the campaign in the last three months – the first time came during the GOP convention, which was held in Tampa and which was forced to shutter its opening night out of caution.
It comes at a time when Romneyland insists it is still waging a momentum race, but as public polling has shown it tight but with Obama ahead in key states, including a consistent lead in Ohio.
But Romney and his surrogates – including Rubio, who has strong backing in Florida generally and with Hispanic voters – described the election to supporters as a “change” race, and suggested Obama’s team is running an ideas-vacant race that’s all about attacking.
“He has so many attacks on me – it’s like, you know, there are other ways to go after me,” Romney said in Kissimmee. “Just go after me with the truth. You don’t need to make up things. But he makes things up he knows aren’t true and frankly I think that’s in part why his campaign isn’t making much progress because people recognize that this is a critical time.”
At that event, Romney did what he didn’t do at his earlier stop – urge the crowd to get out and vote early and often.
“It helps for you to vote now because the earlier you vote, the more help you can give us getting other people to the polls because we’re gonna have to turn out our people,” Romney said, adding, “We need to get people who care about America to go to the polls and vote. This election counts. We’re gonna make this election count for America.”
Rubio spoke Spanish to the crowd at the event, which took place in a heavily Hispanic county, and said, “If you don’t speak Spanish, let me tell you what I said. What I said is that you can save a bunch of money on your car insurance if you elect Mitt Romney.”
Both men talked about “10 more days” as a corollary to the Obama campaign’s “four more years” chant.
“I like ‘ten more days’ a lot better” than four more years, Romney said in Pensacola.
Yet Romney, at his first two Florida stops, talked up bipartisanship in a strong way, painting himself as the middle-of-the-roader who governed across the aisle in Massachusetts, although he accused Obama of “shrinking from the magnitude of the times.”
At the earlier event in more conservative Pensacola, Rubio and other members of the Romney warm-up act struck a harsher tone.
But while Romney blasted President Obama’s policies and the way he’s run his campaign, he focused on working with Democrats, in a contrast to the scorched-earth criticisms of Rubio and Rep. Jeff Miller before the Republican nominee took the stage.
“Paul Ryan and I are going to have to do what we’ve done before. Which is reach across the aisle,” Romney said. “We have to build bridges to people in the other party. We have to recognize [applause] this is not a time in America for us to pull back, and to divide and to demonize. It’s a time in America for us to come together, to look for common ground, for places where we have agreement.”
He argued that Ryan, whose Medicare plan has been the focus of a deluge of Democratic ads and mailers, had done that when he worked on that very plan.
He struck the same note at his final event at Land O’Lakes High School, where officials put the crowd at about 15,000 people. They lined the stands and the football field behind the school, as Romney took the stage.
The situation involving Rubio’s daughter cast a pall over the final leg of Romney’s trip, although he never mentioned it at Land O’Lakes in his speech, out of deference to the senator’s situation. Romney aides said Rubio learned of what had happened with his daughter when he got off the stage in Kissimmee and the former Massachusetts governor said he hoped his daughter would have a quick recovery.
Earlier, Romney said the president’s “agenda keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller, not just for our military but for Medicare, for jobs. This is not a president who has been able to stand up to the challenge of the times.”
For military families, there was this: “You may recall in our most recent debate I made the point that our Navy is now smaller than any time well, in almost a hundred years, and the president’s response was, well, you know, we don’t use bayonets and horses anymore. And … in fact we do use bayonets, and a modern Navy is one of the critical elements that allows us to protect sea lanes and to keep the world more free and prosperous. I believe in a modern Navy.”
The state, which is a key part of a Romney path to victory but less critical to Obama, has been flooded with campaign ads, mailers and visits from both sides. The Obama campaign has insisted its ground game, which is battle-tested, is going to out-gun the Romney campaign.
Obama’s team has also increased its pushback on the Romney campaign line about its momentum as a fantasy in recent days, leery of letting it go unanswered – and mindful of the way George W. Bush used bravado to strong effect in the closing days of the 2000 race.
Rubio insisted to reporters that his team has “enthusiasm on our side. The best way to put it is in Florida I’d rather be us than them.” He insisted there was still momentum in Florida, “and I see it every single day.”
He conceded that he doesn’t think anyone “wins Florida big.” And he said it’s on the campaign to make sure it gets its voters out.
“I think our challenge is the of any campaign down the stretch and that is to fully execute to make sure that people go vote,” he said. “I mean, [if] someone that supports you but decides not to go vote because they get busy [it’s] the campaign’s fault for not doing a good enough job of getting them there. “
Earlier at the Pensacola event, Rubio blasted Obama for releasing a “picture book” that talked about a second-term agenda, sticking to the theme that the president doesn’t have one.
He used a line he has frequently employed about Obama’s ideas being the same as those in countries people leave to come to the United States, which Democrats seized on to try to undercut Romney’s bipartisan sale.
Miller, for his part, made a reference to the Benghazi violence, a line of attack on Obama that Romney has basically dropped himself.
“America deserves a president that does not divide but unites this country. America deserves a president who understands its military and its weapons,” he said, mentioning the four slain diplomats before the crowd drowned him out with chants of “USA! USA!”
“Mr. President, the phone rang and you didn’t answer it,” he said.