To halt the escalating incidents of heckling at campaign stops, Mitt Romney said he’s willing to meet with President Obama’s campaign to reach an accommodation — but that he's skeptical any deal can be struck.
Romney’s comments, in a Fox Radio interview broadcast on Tuesday, came after Obama senior campaign strategist David Axelrod condemned the Democratic protestors who showed up at two recent Romney campaign events in Ohio. However, Axelrod also blasted Republicans, saying such behavior is “their tactic, not ours.”
Asked if he would be willing to sit down with Axelrod to discuss a resolution, Romney said with a laugh, “I know America actually has a long history of heckling free speech.” He continued, “It would be very nice if we could reach that kind of conclusion. I’m not sure it’s possible, but it certainly would be a nice setting to reach.”
And when asked if he would urge his supporters to stop heckling Obama’s campaign, he said: “I can assure you that we do not believe in unilateral disarmament. Bilateral disarmament, that’s a different matter. But unilateral, no way.”
Romney’s comments led Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt to blast Romney for not taking a stronger stand against heckling.
“We have sent a strong message to our supporters that this campaign should be an open exchange of ideas, not one where we drown out the other side by heckling and crashing events.… Campaigns are a reflection of their candidate, and Mitt Romney has a different view, endorsing heckling. With all that’s at stake in this election, Americans deserve better,” LaBolt said in a statement.
Some of the protestors who engaged Romney supporters at events in Pennsylvania were organized by liberal groups such as MoveOn and Occupy Wall Street and not affiliated with the Obama campaign. A MoveOn spokesman said the group did not engage in any heckling in Ohio.
On Saturday, Romney’s campaign moved a stop it had planned in Quakertown, Pa., because so many members of the groups were creating a scene outside the Wawa convenience store where the former Massachusetts governor had intended to stop. The Obama campaign’s own protest took place about 300 feet from that stop.
By contrast, the Romney campaign has allowed and encouraged its staffers to disrupt Obama campaign events. Spokesman Ryan Williams often takes one of the Romney campaign’s official buses to events featuring Obama or Vice President Joe Biden, honking the horn and speaking to voters. Williams also recently made his way into a diner in Ohio where Biden was shaking hands and questioned the vice president about coal policy.
Axelrod himself was a target of hecklers in May, when he appeared at a news conference at the Massachusetts statehouse. Multiple staffers -- including Williams and spokesman Rick Gorka -- were on hand with at least 100 Romney volunteers and staffers, and they chanted at Axelrod throughout his remarks. On that day, Romney himself was making a surprise appearance in California at the headquarters of the failed energy company Solyndra. He said he condoned his supporters’ behavior.
Sarah B. Boxer contributed