Switch Wawa is Which?

On campaign trail in Pa., Romney juggles stores; also rekindles Wawa vs. Sheetz debate

Photo: @SnarkKnoller

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. -- For a few moments on Saturday, Wawa took center stage in the 2012 election. Depending on what side of the political aisle you are on, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney either cleverly dodged or cowardly avoided a group of Democratic protesters Saturday, moving an early afternoon event from one Quakertown, Pa., Wawa convenience store to another.

On the second day of the candidate's "Every Town Counts" bus tour, Romney was scheduled to appear at one Wawa, reported MSNBC, but more than 100 protesters gathered before Romney's planned arrival. With no explanation to the press, the campaign switched venues as the motorcade was en route and diverted everyone a couple miles away to another Wawa.

"You asked me why we're at this Wawa instead of the other Wawa?" Romney joked with a local reporter inside the new venue. "I understand I had a surrogate over there already, so we decided to pick a different place. My surrogate is former governor [Ed] Rendell, who said we could win Pennsylvania."

The Democratic National Committee has staged stops nearby or along Romney's six-state bus tour, said CNN.

Romney's Wawa visit was part of a five-day campaign foray through six "Rust Belt" swing states, reported The Morning Call. The tour started Friday in New Hampshire, with stops slated for Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, to finish up in Michigan on Tuesday.

Ahead of the visit, Romney spokesperson Kate Meriwether told PhillyBurbs.com that the candidate would visit inside the store, and if there was a crowd outside, he might say a few words.

"He's just swinging by to say hello," she told the paper.

Romney walked around inside the Wawa--grabbing a meatball hoagie--with former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), said MSNBC.

The retailer is known for its hoagies (a regional variant on the traditional submarine sandwich), and holds a chainwide "Hoagiefest" each summer.

And according to an ABC New report, at his next stop on Saturday, Romney dipped a toe into what has been a tense local debate among Pennsylvanians for years: Wawa or Sheetz?

The question of which Pennsylvania-based c-store chain is better has divided residents there for years. But that did not deter Romney from polling his audience on where they get their sandwiches, said the report.

"Where do you get your hoagies here? Do you get them at Wawas? Is that where you get them?" Romney asked.

"No!" several members of the audience shouted in response.

Romney grinned. "No? You get them at Sheetz?" he said.

When the audience replied in the negative again, Romney seemed surprised. "No?" he said. "Where do you get them?"

As his audience threw out names of local delis in response, Romney paused and then proceeded to tell the audience about his trip to Wawa--acknowledging that it might be a tense topic for some in his audience.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I know it's a very big state divide."

But Romney said his visit there had been "instructive" because it personified the difference between innovation in the private sector and the ability of the government to do its job.

What inspired him: A computer at Wawa that allows customers to type in what they want on a sandwich, as opposed to ordering it through a human cashier. It was a technology, he said, that had been fostered by competition--competition he said the federal government lacks in delivering its services to Americans. He said the government's lack of competition and bureaucracy was hurting the United States in keeping jobs that are moving to other countries.

But more than anything, Romney seemed blown away by the Wawa computers, which he raved about.

"You press a little touchtone key pad.… You touch this, touch this, touch this, go pay the cashier, and there's your sandwich," Romney said. "It's amazing!"

Wawa officials did not respond to a CSP Daily News request for details about the visit.

The Wawa stopover was not Romney's first convenience store industry-related encounter of the campaign. In April, Romney joked about some cookies that a supporter offered to him, saying, "I'm not sure about these cookies. Did you make those cookies?" he asked the people around him. "You didn't, did you? No. No. They came from the local 7-Eleven bakery or wherever."

The press dubbed the incident "CookieGate," and 7-Eleven sent the candidate some of its cookies(see Related Content below for previous CSP Daily News coverage and video).

Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. operates 594 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, of which 311 sell fuel.