In the course of a couple of hours Thursday, the Romney campaign sent out unmistakable signals that it intends to fight the guerilla warfare of a presidential campaign with a new aggressiveness and combativeness.
The first signal came in Boston, where top Obama adviser David Axelrod organized an anti-Romney event on the steps of the Massachusetts state house. The event, which Team Obama wanted to keep under wraps until shortly before it happened, was to feature remarks from Axelrod and Democratic state officeholders who would attack Romney's record as governor from 2003 to 2007. But it didn't work out as planned.
First, word of the event leaked last night, and the Romney campaign quickly scheduled an event of its own at the state house about an hour before Axelrod's. Then, when Democrats began speaking, a crowd of about 100 Romney workers, supporters, and volunteers showed up to chant, shout, and heckle the speakers every step of the way. The protesters shouted "Solyndra!" and "Where are the jobs?" and "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt!" while Democrats gamely attacked Romney's tenure as governor.
"I get tweets from some of these folks, so I feel close to them," Axelrod lamented at one point. At another, he said simply, "Look, this is the great pageant of democracy." In the end, the Obama event was overshadowed by the loud, aggressive Romney forces.
It was the kind of tactic that is usually repaid in kind on the campaign trail, and it seems likely -- certain, actually -- that Romney surrogates, and perhaps Mitt Romney himself, will soon face similar actions at their events. But Romney aides aren't worried, saying what they did was both payback and a message.
"They heckle us at every single event we go to," says a well-connected Romney aide. "Just last week, Romney did a speech at the bridge to nowhere [in New Hampshire] and alluded to the 'Greek chorus' that was off to the side." Indeed, as Romney talked about government waste, a group of Democrats stood at some distance and shouted "Obama! Obama! Obama!" Romney faced a similar scene at another event in New Hampshire, in a fishing village, when he and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte were hounded by pro-Obama protesters. And pro-Obama forces also staged a big protest when Romney gave his speech on the economy in Detroit in February.
So Team Romney views the Boston event as payback. But they also, by striking back bigger and louder, want to send a message to Team Obama that Romney is ready to fight. Romney aides characterize the Axelrod event as a "sneak attack" in Romney's home territory. "The Obama campaign thought they were going to come into our own turf and launch a dishonest sneak attack on Gov. Romney's record," says the Romney aide. "We're not going to allow that to happen. We are going to hold them accountable every single time."
Indeed, Mitt Romney himself, a short time later, said, "If they're going to be heckling us, why, we're not going to sit back and play by very different rules….We'll show them that we conservatives have the same kind of capacity he does."
Where Romney was speaking was another message from his campaign. Shortly after the Boston event, Romney launched a sneak attack of his own, holding a news conference at the headquarters of Solyndra, the bankrupt solar energy company that received $535 million in loan guarantees from the Obama administration. According to reporters traveling with Romney, the campaign did not tell the press about the event until the bus was actually on its way to Solyndra.
"The reason for keeping it quiet is because we knew if word got out that Solyndra would do everything in their power and the Obama administration would do everything in their power to stop us from having this news conference," a Romney aide told reporters, according to an ABC News account. "But taxpayers made a substantial investment in Solyndra, there are serious questions about what happened at Solyndra, why that investment was selected, what happened to that money."
The bottom line is, Thursday marked a new escalation in the day-to-day fighting between the Obama and Romney campaigns. And Team Romney hopes it has sent a very clear message that it will punch, and counter-punch, as hard as is necessary.