LISBON - Mitt Romney's campaign bus rolled into town on Friday, stopping at the county Republican headquarters to officially open the campaign office for the election season.
The bus, however, was without its namesake, as Gov. Romney is on vacation from the campaign trail, and doesn't always travel on the bus.
The stop was part of a week-long tour of the state, during which the bus and its crew stopped to take part in opening 16 campaign offices, according to Romney's Ohio spokesman and communications director, Chris Maloney.
Bill Johnson, Josh Mandel, David Johnson, Columbiana County Republican Party chairman, and supports join in and cut the ribbon outside of the Columbiana County Republican Headquarters signifying the official start of the campaign season at the headquarters. (Salem News photo by Katie Rickman)
"It's a great opportunity to garner attention and get volunteers excited," Maloney said. "It's terrific to be going into small towns, where we really get a sense of voter enthusiasm and be campaign ambassadors."
The event was attended by several Ohio Republican politicians and candidates, including U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, - who represents Ohio's 6th Congressional District that includes Columbiana County and all or part of 11 other counties in the eastern and southeastern portion of the state - and state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is challenging Sherrod Brown for one of the state's seats in the U.S. Senate.
"A lot of elections come down to earning the support of blue-collar voters," Mandel said. "We plan to spend a lot of time in Columbiana County earning the support of not just Republicans, but Democrats and independents, too."
Mandel said he thinks it's important that we change the way that Washington is run, and "the only way to do that is to change the people we send there."
"We can't keep sending career politicians to Washington and expect different results. We need to clean the place out and put in a new generation of leaders who have the backbone to stand up to party bosses on both sides of the aisle and do right for our state."
Mandel said that with his background coming from blue-collar northeast Ohio roots and from serving in the U.S. Marines, including two tours in Iraq, "No party boss in Washington is going to push me round, because I've been through tougher stuff than this."
The bus also took some time off the campaign trail earlier this week, spending parts of two days delivering food and water to counties affected by recent strong storms.
"It was an opportunity to assist people in a time of need," Maloney said. "It was nice to set politics aside and just get into communities and make a difference in that regard."
He also said the bus provided a bit of a respite for him as well, as his home had been without power. He said the best sleep he had gotten recently was on the bus.
Maloney also responded to assertions that the Romney bus was shadowing President Barack Obama's campaign bus in an attempt to take some of the spotlight off of the incumbent. This week, the bus actually was ahead of the president at many of his campaign's stops, he said.
"I think it's incumbent on any campaign to not only deliver a positive vision, but it's also important to set the record straight on the president's - or any incumbent's - policies," he said. "As we get out and talk, we provide an effective contrast, and people begin to see the contrast, to see how we're charting a new path. We're showing how Gov. Romney plans to get more Ohioans back to work.
"It's not about bracketing the president as much as setting the record straight. It's obviously not lost on anyone how important Ohio is to this race. Ohio matters, and the reality is we're going to be here every day from now until Nov. 6."
So, despite being without its headliner, Maloney feels the bus is still an important part of the Republican candidate's campaign.
"It's an office on wheels, a mobile campaign headquarters," he said. "People get really excited when they see the bus. It's a great tool to maximize our ability to recruit volunteers and connect with voters."
Columbiana County Republican supporters missed out on two high-profile guests, as governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota were along for the ride on Thursday.
The bus left Lisbon headed for New Philadelphia, where it was planned to be in a parade - its fifth this week.