Monday, November 05, 2012
SEAN COLLINS WALSH, Daily News Staff Writer
THE STANDS were packed, the bright lights were on and the crowd was chanting. It was a frigid Bucks County night in early November, but it wasn't a Council Rock-Pennsbury football game.
It was Mitt Romney's final drive for the White House, his two-minute drill of a stump speech and a Hail Mary pass to win a state that hasn't gone for a Republican presidential candidate in nearly a quarter-century.
And it was electric. Traffic clogged the main exit ramp off nearby Interstate 95. Some Romney fans on Twitter even dubbed the large and enthusiastic gathering "Mittstock."
Estimates of the crowd at Lower Makefield's Shady Brook Farm ranged from 20,000 to 30,000 - similar to what then-president George W. Bush drew in a speech nearby during his 2004 campaign.
Both Romney and President Obama have largely ignored the deep-blue Northeast this year, and many who came to Sunday's rally traveled from New Jersey, New York and Delaware.
Laureen and Mark Vinicombe live in Ewing, N.J., and jumped at the chance to see Romney in person. They didn't expect to find so many people at the rally, which had been announced just two days earlier.
"With this turnout, we think it's going to be a nice surprise on Tuesday," Laureen Vinicombe said of the former Massachusetts governor's chance of winning Pennsylvania.
Her husband said it was vital that Romney win to prevent Obama from accomplishing his "liberal agenda."
"If the president has the free reign of [not having to run for] re-election, then the floodgates are going to open," he said.
The country-music pep rally clashed interestingly with the upscale culture of the Burberry and Starbucks crowd, but there was no conflict between the goals of those onstage and off.
"I'm a victim of the Obama economy," said Gregory Woods, who recently moved from Connecticut to Chester after a small financial firm he helped found went under. "I've got four daughters. I had to go where the work was."
Woods said he supports Romney in part because Romney plans to repeal the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, the Obama-backed effort intended to prevent another recession like the one in 2008.
"The regulations in this business are stifling," said Woods, adding that he's happy his Pennsylvania vote "will count more than it does in Connecticut," where Obama is likely to win. Most people at Sunday's rally got in line three hours or more before Romney took the stage.
By then, temperatures had plummeted and some shivering partisans attempted to leave in the middle of his speech but were at first prevented from doing so by Romney staff and the Secret Service.
On Twitter, New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro wrote: "We've got to get out! My daughter is frostbitten," begs mom, asking to leave Romney rally. Staffer replies: "It's not cold enuf (sic) for that."
People eventually were allowed to leave when they wanted, and hundreds did so before the event was over.
Romney spoke from a made-for-TV stage - all the bleachers and more than half the crowd were looking at his back - and largely stuck to the stump speech he delivered at stops in Iowa and Ohio earlier in the day.
He did break from the script to pump up the home crowd.
"The people of America understand that we are taking back the White House because we are going to win Pennsylvania," Romney said.
The Obama campaign has argued this week that Romney's last-minute efforts in Pennsylvania mirror past failed GOP candidates, who - having realized true swing states like Ohio were out of reach - attempted to make up ground in the center-left and vote-rich Keystone State.
David Axelrod, one of Obama's closest political advisers, said last week that he would shave off his decades-old mustache on TV if the president loses Pennsylvania, Minnesota or Michigan.
Romney's strategists, however, have said that it is paying attention to those states now because Romney's spike in the polls after the first debate put these traditionally liberal places in play.