KETTERING, Ohio — Walking a political tightrope, Mitt Romney made a stop here Tuesday and tried to strike a delicate balance between showing sympathy for those suffering in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and fulfilling the duties of his current job: Republican Party presidential nominee.
While President Obama was at the White House monitoring the federal response and collecting accolades from Republican governors for his efforts, Mr. Romney held a rally to raise donations — collecting cereal, rice, diapers and toilet paper from an estimated 2,000 supporters.
In speaking to them, Mr. Romney also did something he rarely does: steer clear of attacking Mr. Obama on the stump.
"We won't be able to solve all of the problems with our efforts this morning. One of the things I've learned in life is you make the difference you can. And you can't always solve all the problems yourself, but you can make a difference in the life of one or two people as a result of one or two people taking an effort," Mr. Romney said before packing up some of the donated food and loading it onto a truck.
The Republican candidate also avoided answering shouted questions from reporters about whether he would eliminate the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is leading the federal response.
Mr. Romney said at a debate last year that states should be in charge of handing the responses to storms and natural disasters, suggesting that the agency's role should be diminished.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama canceled their campaign appearances Tuesday, and the president has canceled his Wednesday campaign schedule as well, though he will travel Wednesday to New Jersey to appear with Gov. Chris Christie, one of Mr. Romney's biggest surrogates, who was effusive in praising Mr. Obama's storm response this week.
"This storm is not yet over," Mr. Obama said in remarks Tuesday as he visited the Red Cross' national headquarters. In responding to damage left by the storm, Mr. Obama added that his message to government officials is: "No bureaucracy. No red tape."
Hurricane Sandy put the presidential campaign on pause just a week before Election Day, leaving Mr. Romney in the tricky political position of trying to stay in the headlines without looking like he is playing politics in the middle of a natural disaster.
"I think it was appropriate for Gov. Romney to cancel events yesterday, and to spend a day like he is today, focusing citizens' attention on donating to relief efforts. After that, I think he should be free to campaign with a full schedule," said Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire who served as an adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential bid.
"One of the benefits of being president is that you get to use the powers of the office to show that you are running the government. One of the advantages of being the challenger is that you don't have to do so," he said.
Tuesday's event had many trappings of a campaign rally — people trickled in through metal detectors and into a sports arena, where they were treated to the campaign biography video of Mr. Romney's life and the Romney campaign's usual mix of music — an upbeat playlist that includes Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" and Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights."
But Mr. Romney set the tone when he entered the area and was not accompanied by his normal entrance song, Kid Rock's "Born Free." And when he took the microphone, Mr. Romney said it was time for the nation to come together.
"We have heavy hearts as you know, with all of the suffering going on in a major part of the country," Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Romney will return to the campaign trail Wednesday with three rallies in Florida.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.