BOW, New Hampshire — There were few signs Friday afternoon that this New Hampshire lumber yard was hosting a presidential candidate. The upbeat country music that usually provides the campaign's soundtrack was silenced. The sign's bearing the candidate's slogan were replaced by large American flags. And a local Anglican priest opened the proceedings by asking God to comfort "those who are searching for reasons for tragedy."
When Mitt Romney took the stage, he quickly sought to put the brief remarks he was about to give in context.
"I stand before you not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband and American," he said.
Romney's address wasn't one of a presidential candidate — nor was it that of the president, whose own speech hours earlier positioned him as a reassuring father figure to the country, as he's often done at moments of crisis. By contrast, Romney played a ministerial role, urging his flock to stay optimistic and to use the tragedy as a catalyst for good.
"Today we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also of helplessness. But there is something we can do," Romney said. "We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy-laden. We can mourn with those that mourn in Colorado."
He went on to quote a verse in 2nd Corinthians: "Blessed be God who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble."
"What we do know is how evil is overcome, and we're seeing that great power today in the goodness and compassion of a wounded community," he said.
After finishing his remarks to muted applause, Romney descended from the stage, walked around the risers, and waited, quietly shaking hands with each member of the audience of about 200. Wearing a dark suit, Romney didn't smile, instead nodding and saying "thank you" over and over again.
As one person in the crowd noted, "It looks like a funeral receiving line."