- Posted October 31, 2012 by
Hurricane Sandy Bring Ryan, Christie, and Obama into Focus
Over 1000 miles away from the devastation in New Jersey, western Wisconsin was briefly the focus of Hurricane Sandy support efforts, with a touch of politics. Congressman Paul Ryan made an appearance in La Crosse, Wisconsin to stage a “photo op” behind a backdrop of can goods intended for the victims of the unprecedented damage and destruction from North Carolina to New England. Ryan’s entourage included an appearance by Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ryan’s wife, Janna, and Republican Senatorial candidate, Tommy Thompson. The only person providing public comments was Ryan.
Congressman Ryan greeted a small group of about 200 attendees at the La Crosse Republican Headquarters, and made a few comments about contributing directly to the Red Cross. In the room, tables were laid out with aligned rows of canned goods. Outside, some residents brought assorted bags filled with canned goods.
To the news media and to community members, Ryan did not speak of politics but more so about the needs of the people back out east. “Today we are bringing together America’s donations and packaging them and sending them on. “ He went on to say, “…. don’t forget about the Red Cross, if you get a chance go to their web site, www.redcross.org and donate. They need donations.”
The Romney campaign has been criticized by various media for focusing on collecting canned goods rather than what the Red Cross has been asking for- donations. Andrea Mitchell from MSNBC tweeted, “Red Cross tells us grateful for Romney donation but prefer people send money or donate blood don’t collect goods NOT best way to help.”
A New York Times Op Ed piece by David Firestone on October 30th was particularly critical of the Romney’s recently staged photo ops. He wrote, “Most disaster agencies don’t want donated goods; they need cash. And in the modern era, the most important cash comes from taking people’s tax dollars and distributing them in the form of federal aid to communities hard-hit by a disaster.”
As an observer at the Ryan appearance in La Crosse, it was fairly easy to see why some think of the Congressman as a likeable personality, no matter how one feels about the budget deficit or Medicare. For the reporters and camera staff attending the Ryan appearance, there was a sense of frustration over the event planning. The room was cramped with national and local press jockeying for position. At one point a local GOP official planned to have Ryan walk behind the food tables and have the public in the center of room, only to quickly change the arrangement just before his appearance. The press moaned in the background.
When Ryan appeared at the event, the press were shuttled outside to photograph a group of Romney campaign supporters only to be restricted to allowing only a few photographers to get shots of Ryan shaking hands with volunteers against a backdrop of strategically placed canned goods.
A few minutes later, the press was quickly herded back in the building to record about 5 minutes of Ryan speaking, only to be asked to leave the room once again. As the local press waited in an adjoining room, the press pool became frustrated waiting to ask Ryan some questions. One reported exhorted to a local handler, “I traveled two hours to get this?” The press waited a few more minutes, but Ryan slipped out into a black SVU and was off. The photo op was over.
Back in New Jersey, over a thousand miles away, Governor Chris Christie [R] was on multiple media interviews praising President Obama for his handling of the crisis, calling his support “outstanding.” On CNN’s Piers Morgan program, Christie recently said, “I am not going to play politics with this issue….this is so much bigger than an election. It is the livelihood of the people in my state.”
The effect of hurricane Sandy will likely have long and profound effects in the New England area. With tight presidential and legislative races in play, it is difficult to accurately gauge how an unprecedented storm could affect the looming election. At least today it seemed like the huge void between a Democratic president and the Republican Party was at least bridged a little over very “troubled waters.” Perhaps Governor Christie’s positive comments and a small photo opportunity in western Wisconsin provided a bit more focus on a very blurry subject- the outcome of the November 6, 2012 election.