You Take One Day Off...

Saturday, September 29, 2012
The full-page Dayton Daily News ad that greeted me on Tuesday morning

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you already know that I have made it a point to exercise my reporting 'legs' over the past 10 months with coverage of national politicians visiting my local (as the crow flies) area.  I started last November with one of Herman Cain's last rallies before he suspended his campaign in the wake of a then-breaking sex scandal.  I followed that one up with Dayton- and Cincinnati-area events for former US House speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the run-up to Ohio's Republican primary, part of the 10-state "Super Tuesday" slate on March 6th.

Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and Ohio senator Rob Portman walk to the stage at the "Victory Rally" at the Dayton International Airport on Tuesday afternoon (photo by Ty Greenlees and courtesy of The Dayton Daily News)

Trying not to show any partisanship in my assignments, I attempted to cover the kick-off rally for President Barack Obama this past May in Columbus but was forced to do so as an observer than as an accredited media member.  That issue was recently remedied when I got in for his recent Cincinnati "Grassroots Event" held in Cincinnati's Eden Park as well as the one held with Vice President Joe Biden at Fairborn's Wright State University.  These last two were so recent that I haven't yet posted the "Behind the Scenes" pieces where I detail what transpired while getting the stories.  I did see the original announcement about the "Buckeye Bus Tour" for the Romney campaign that was held this week; however, since I already did an article on him earlier in the year, I thought that I would take a pass this time around.  As it turns out, that was probably the wrong decision.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romeny greeting well wishers at the "Victory Rally" at the Dayton International Airport on Tuesday afternoon (photo by Ty Greenlees and courtesy of The Dayton Daily News)

Due to recent negative trending in national and specific "swing" state polling, the Romney campaign decided that it needed to do more actual campaigning instead of focusing primarily on fundraising.  One of the more nostalgic methods of politicians mingling with the citizens around this country is via a mode of transportation.  Back in the heyday of the railroads, candidates would make "whistle stop" tours of the country and make speeches from the rear of train cars to eager audiences (the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" photo was taken in such a venue).  The eventual transition to air travel for long-haul travel has made such events almost archaic in modern times (the last time one has been used in presidential campaigning was 1984 when President Ronald Reagan made a 120-mile trip between Dayton and Toledo, Ohio; President-Elect Obama used one to recreate Abraham Lincoln's journey between Philadelphia and Washington DC prior to his inauguration in January 2009) but buses have become the go-to "prop" that campaigns have retained to show a connection with the "common man".  One of the more well-known users of such a conveyance was Arizona senator John McCain during his two runs for president in 2000 and 2008.  Dubbed "The Straight Talk Express", it represented his "maverick" personality and hosted many press events to compensate for his campaign's lack of funding for media advertising.  To placate nagging security concerns about the use of charter vehicles, the Secret Service purchased two armor-plated buses in 2011 to be used by the dueling campaigns in the 2012 general election.

Country singer Lee Greenwood entertains the crows waiting for the start of the Romney/Ryan "Victory Rally" at the Dayton International Airport on Tuesday afternoon (photo by Ty Greenlees and courtesy of The Dayton Daily News)

In the original public announcement, Romney was to be making an appearance at Kettering's Trent Arena on September 25th at 6PM.  This venue, on the campus of Fairmont High School, could seat up to 4,400 people (and probable a lot more with standing-room only sections) and boasts parking for over 3,000 cars.  When the former Massachusetts governor spoke to a gathering at Beavercreek defense contractor facility in March, the crowd was estimated at around 1,200 supporters and media members.  The following day, several changes were posted, to include changing the format to a joint appearance with Romney's running mate, Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan and moving the rally to Wright Brothers Aviation on the grounds of the Dayton International Airport in Vandalia and to an earlier time that same day.  Kentucky senator Rand Paul, a favorite with the Republican Party's "Tea Party" faction, would also be joining the party's nominees for the event.  There was much media "buzz" surrounding these changes and many featured the three-day tour as a "make-or-break" maneuver in their hourly programming on cable news outlets (with one being somewhat slow on the uptake concerning geography and on-air graphics).

Already security screened attendees take shelter from the elements awaiting the "Victory Rally" at the Dayton International Airport on Tuesday afternoon (photo by Ty Greenlees and courtesy of The Dayton Daily News)

Even with these new "wrinkles", I was still sticking to my original plan of skipping the event.  That held fast until I opened up The Dayton Daily News on the morning of the "victory rally" and saw the full-page ad on the back of the 'A' section that I posted at the top of this post.  I cannot remember ever seeing a political campaign buying space in local newspapers to announce a campaign appearance.  According to a Cox Media Group Ohio representative, such an advertisement (a "6 x 21"--six columns wide by 21 inches long) in a weekday edition of that paper would run approximately $4,300 (this generic quote does not include adjustments for using color or a potential discount given to political advertisers) and would be a small "drop" out of the huge "bucket" of Republican funds slotted for this fall's contest.  The notice included a website as well as a Columbus-area phone number to request admission tickets so even though I had not requested media credentials, I still could go to the event and rely upon my zoom lens to capture the activities for a blog posting.  After looking at my schedule that day (and considering the workload that I would be facing when I reported in there later in the afternoon), I chose not to go; however, after seeing some of the footage and photographs from that rally, I think that I probably made a rash decision.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan supporters gather for a rally at the Dayton International Airport (photo by Jim Otte and courtesy of

In a live blogging account of the event, it appears that the campaign did get a decent turnout (some estimated as high as 3,500 people) despite the damp and overcast weather conditions.  A phalanx of local, state and national-level Republican politicians were there to greet Romney and Ryan (in addition to Paul, Ohio US senator Rob Portman, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, US representative Mike Turner and Ohio state senator Peggy Lehner also made opening remarks) and country singer Lee Greenwood entertained in the run-up to the candidates' arrival.  There were even some protestors in vicinity of the venue, using former Ohio governor Ted Strickland's "Santa Claus" outsourcing claim from the Democratic National Convention earlier in the month.

 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney walks to interviews at an airport in Dayton, Ohio (photo by Melina Mara and courtesy of The Washington Post)

As the first joint appearance by the candidates on the campaign trail after their Tampa convention, this event drew a lot of media attention from the broadcast and cable news networks and their local affiliates.  Here is footage of Dayton's ABC22/Fox45 6PM news coverage:

Cincinnati's NBC affiliate WLWT also reported on the event:

And C-SPAN's coverage caught Romney's plane (with Ryan, Paul and current Ohio governor John Kasich also onboard) taxiing to a stop accompanied by the theme from the 1980s-era movie Top Gun:

Such overt theatrical choreography was seen once before when Romney (erroneously) introduced his vice-presidential pick back in August (with Ryan walking off the USS Wisconsin to the score from Air Force One):

However, the one moment of the rally that seemed to catch the attention of many in the media was Romney's attempt to divert the crowd to chant of "Romney! Ryan!" instead of cheering solely for his running mate.  Perhaps the most viewed critique of that embarrassing incident was the one provided by MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, co-host of their Morning Joe talk show, where the conservative commentator was at a loss for words after viewing the clip:

In hindsight, I will admit that it was probably a mistake on my part for not going to the event and I will consider it a "lesson learned" to apply to future reporting opportunities.  However, considering the recent polling trends in our state, that might have been my last best chance to see them over the remaining five-plus weeks leading up to the November 2nd general election because one of the disadvantages of living in a "swing" state is being treated just like the rest of the United States by the campaigns (and the press) after you have "swung" too far in one candidate's direction.

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