A spokesman for Mitt Romney had a brief conversation Wednesday with Vice President Joe Biden at an Italian restaurant in Steubenville, Ohio, and challenged the vice president about President Barack Obama's energy policy.
Ryan Williams, the Romney staffer, told The Huffington Post by phone that he did not know Biden would be dining at Naples Spaghetti House in the eastern Ohio town on Wednesday evening, and that the vice president was led by staff to sit at a table right next to him and another Romney campaign aide.
Biden was staying overnight in Steubenville after delivering a a campaign speech in Youngstown earlier in the day.
Williams said that after the vice president was seated near him, and after Williams had tweeted out a picture of how close he was sitting, a Biden aide "leaned over and I think pointed me out to him."
"He said, 'Oh this is Ryan,'" Williams said. "He called me out by name and invited me to come over."
Williams has made a practice of attending Obama campaign events lately to provide on-the-spot comment to reporters from the Romney campaign perspective. He stood in line to get into Obama's campaign kickoff event in Ohio on May 5 and spoke to reportersimmediately after the president gave his speech.
According to Williams, Biden knew who he was and joked that Williams had come to the restaurant to listen to his conversation.
"He invited me to his table so I could eavesdrop there," Williams said. "He said, 'It's interesting to see you here.' I said it's interesting to see you in coal country, given your polices that would hurt coal workers."
Williams said he then asked Biden about a comment he made in 2007 ranking coal and high fructose corn syrup as greater threats to Americans than a terrorist attack.
The Obama administration has recently affirmed that it believes "clean coal" is an environmentally friendly and desirable energy source, after Republicans hammered the White House for leaving coal off a list of energy sources. The White House later added it to the list.
"I said, 'Why do you think coal is more dangerous than terrorism?'" Williams said. "He didn't seem to want to answer that question, so I let him go back to his dinner and I went back to my table."
After that, Williams said, Biden's staff moved him to a different table. Williams originally tweeted that Biden was "quickly ushered out of the dining room at the restaurant."
"Guess he thinks I'm a lousy dinner guest," Williams tweeted.
He later clarified that Biden was moved into a different room of the restaurant, a few tables away.
A pool report written by a reporter traveling with Biden and sent out by the White House made no mention of Williams or of his conversation with Biden. Williams said that reporters were ushered out of the room before Biden and he had their conversation.
According to the pool report, Biden came to the restaurant with former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat.
"I have heard a lot about this restaurant from Ted Strickland. I love Italian food and I'm hungry," Biden told members of the Delatore family, who own the restaurant.
The pool report said that Biden "greeted several surprised patrons eating dinner in the restaurant."
Whether Williams showed up in Steubenville intending to shadow Biden is hard to know for sure. He told HuffPost he did not know Biden would be at the restaurant until he arrived there and saw Secret Service agents conducting a security check at the door.
But at the very least, Williams succeeded in doing one thing: irritating Biden and Obama staffers.
Amy Dudley, the press secretary traveling with Biden, tweeted a photo of Williams sitting a few feet from Biden's table in the restaurant, along with this note: "So nice of @RyanGOP to join us for dinner at Naples Spaghetti House in Steubenville."
And after Williams sent out a tweet describing how he had interacted with Biden, the Obama campaign's national spokesman, Ben LaBolt, wrote on his Twitter feed: "@RyanGOP Staffer apparently doesn't believe the press is capable of asking questions, shouts his own at the candidate. #classy"
Williams said LaBolt was mistaken."I wasn't shouting questions. I was invited to the table," he said.