KETTERING, Ohio (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney collected relief supplies in Ohio on Tuesday in an attempt to strike the right tone after superstorm Sandy.
"We have heavy hearts as you know with all the suffering going on in a major part of our country — a lot of people hurting this morning," a jeans-clad Romney told several hundred supporters gathered at a suburban Dayton high school sports arena. "We're looking for all the help we can get for all the families that need."
Both presidential candidates scrambled to shift campaign plans following the massive storm that wreaked havoc along the East Coast. Romney initially canceled all events for Tuesday, the day after Sandy caused flooding, deaths and power outages. But the relief event kept Romney in the public eye and in the media spotlight with just a week to go before Election Day as President Barack Obama remained at the White House to oversee federal response efforts.
Romney did not mention or criticize his Democratic opponent in during remarks that lasted less than five minutes.
He spoke while standing in front of a bank of tables where campaign volunteers had neatly lined up toothpaste, diapers, canned food and fleece blankets, among other goods. A spokesman later confirmed that Romney's campaign had purchased some of the supplies. Though it was billed as a "storm relief event," the candidate's trademark campaign video was broadcast on large screens set up for the supporters who gathered inside the arena before Romney arrived.
"I will devote every waking hour of my energy to getting America strong again. That's what an American president has to do," Romney says in the video.
After he spoke, he stood behind a table full of relief supplies and shook hands with attendees one at a time, taking bags full of relief supplies from many of them. Romney later loaded more relief supplies into a waiting truck as a handful of reporters watched. He loaded bottled water, boxes of diapers and pallets of canned food into the truck, and was joined by Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
Romney refused to answer repeated questions from reporters about how he would run the Federal Emergency Management Agency as president. The Republican nominee has said he wants to return control of some federal functions to the states.
Asked whether he favors additional federal aid to help recover and rebuild from Sandy, Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said: "A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period."
Romney also was preparing to resume an aggressive campaign schedule beginning on Wednesday.
He has scheduled three rallies across Florida. The campaign is also considering sending Romney to New Jersey later in the week, where he could meet with victims and gauge storm damage with Gov. Chris Christie, a top Republican ally and surrogate. The move would follow the path Romney took after Hurricane Isaac threatened the Republican National Convention in late August, when he toured storm damage in Louisiana with Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, another supporter.
Romney also is trying to expand his efforts into battleground states largely considered safe territory for Democrats.
The campaign is launching a statewide advertising push in Pennsylvania, a state that aides say is in play one week before next Tuesday's election. They expressed similar confidence in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which has been in the Democratic column since 1976.
"While the Obama campaign would like to wish it is 2008, the reality is that they are now forced to 'play defense' in least six states — Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and Wisconsin — that they once believed were 'safe' Obama wins," Romney political director Rich Beeson wrote in a campaign memo sent to reporters as Romney loaded relief supplies.