“Are you here to see the next president of the United States?” asked a college kid in a royal blue Romney T-shirt, leaning into the car window from the middle of the road and directing a line of late arrivals to a far-off parking lot.
Maybe. Just maybe.
Hundreds of voters—the great majority of them white, and a good many of them white-haired—were baking and reddening on the boiling asphalt Tuesday afternoon outside the headquarters of EIT LLC, a medical electronics instrument manufacturer in Sterling, Va., waiting for the Secret Service to process them through the magnetometers so they could cheer for the Republican nominee-designate.
Indeed, so many neatly dressed, well-behaved Mitt Romney supporters showed up—something over 500—that a fastidious fire marshal decreed that dozens would not be admitted into the cavernous, air-conditioned company warehouse where the putative future president was to speak, and instead had them stand in the sweltering sun to listen over the public address system.
Which they did. Happily.
Virginia might be a toss-up state—whose 13 electoral votes were carried handily by Barack Obama and Joe Biden last time around—but this prosperous corner of Loudon County, a short drive from Washington, D.C., seemed, at least for the moment, like Romney country.
Virginia Delegate Joe May, an electrical engineer by training who started EIT 35 years ago and now boasts 300 employees at two different plants, greeted a reporter on the loading dock as he waited nervously for his VIP guest.
May, who owns EIT, said he’s worried about the impact of Obamacare on his operating costs, and that the new law—which may or may not be struck down in whole or in part by the Supreme Court on Thursday—is so complicated that his lawyers and accountants can’t tell him what its true impact will be. He said he prides himself on providing health insurance not only to his employees but to their dependents.
“A lot of them never had health care before,” he said. “I think they think of me as kind of a hero.”
May, who chairs the transportation committee in the Virginia General Assembly, acknowledged that the state raises $750 million in highway funds through a gasoline tax but depends on getting an additional $950 million from the very same federal government that Romney says he wants to downsize. New sources of revenue are urgently needed, he added.
“I feel like we really have a leader. I’m fired up.”
Apparently May has yet to sign the famous pledge to which anti-tax lobbyist (and fellow Romney supporter) Grover Norquist makes every elected Republican show fealty.
“Grover Norquist? Are you kidding?” he scoffed. Then he tried to take back his display of disrespect. “I’m an electrical engineer. I don’t need to put my finger up in the air and wait for lightning to strike.”
Inside the cool warehouse, the crowd was warmed up by Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock—who praised Romney as a nice guy and a family man who loves his wife—and Susan Allen, wife of former governor and Sen. George Allen, who is attempting a comeback this election cycle. “The airwaves will be full of negative, ugly ads,” Mrs. Allen promised, actually shouted, as she urged Virginians to “stay positive.
There were more speeches from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Gov. Bob McDonnell, a vice presidential wannabe who may or may not have helped his chances by speaking for more than eight minutes while Romney, who had slipped almost unobtrusively onto the podium, stood there and nodded his head. Ironically, they stood in front of a banner emblazoned with, “PUTTING JOBS FIRST”—an echo of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign theme, “Putting People First.”
Finally, the man of the hour.
“Please welcome the next president of the United States,” McDonnell crowed, and the crowd began a chant of “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!”
“Wow, what a welcome! You guys are doing a great job!” the next president commented.
Viewed from the press pen, behind steel barricades, nearly 100 feet away, Romney looked evenly tanned, his sideburns slightly more silvery than when we last saw him in the flesh during the Florida primary, and very keyed up. He spoke in a rush, as though he was trying to communicate thoughts of great importance but was perpetually in danger of running out of breath.
“My guess is they’re not sleeping well in the Obama White House tonight,” he said, referring to the pending Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, which, it’s almost too boring to note, was modeled on Romney’s own health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts. He promised to obliterate Obamacare “and replace it with real reform.” Though, apparently, there wasn’t time to elaborate on any of the details.
In due course Romney launched into the call-and-response section of his stump speech, sounding for all the world like a facsimile of a firebrand preacher.
“Let me ask you—do you think the coming generations of Americans are gonna have a fair shot if we p[ass trillions of dollar of debt onto them?”
“No!” roared the crowd.
“Do you think that college graduates [who] can’t find a job—are they gonna get a fair shot?”
And so on and so forth.
The loudest and most sustained cheers came when Romney promised to balance the federal budget.
Flush with excitement (or maybe just from the blast of hot air as they stepped outdoors), the acolytes filed out of the campaign rally as tidily as they had filed in.
“I think he gives hope to the people, and I think he really has some good ideas—like we need to get rid of Obamacare,” said Edna Chandler, the 69-year-old wife of a retired Navy physicist, Larry Chandler, and the mother of eight grown children who currently works as a substitute middle-school teacher in the nearby Fairfax County School District. “We need to bring back jobs. He’s done it before, and he’ll know how to reduce the deficit.”
Chandler’s daughter, Edina Alvarez, a self-described stay-at-home mom, was walking alongside. She labeled herself an independent who voted for Obama in 2008 but really backed Romney all along.
“Do you know why I voted for Obama? Because I didn’t like McCain,” she said.
Larry Chandler trudged a few steps behind and smiled serenely.
“I was really impressed,” said Ed Rager, a 67-year-old former human-resources executive who retired from Mobil Oil before the merger with Exxon. “I liked what he had to say about college grads who can’t find jobs and the national debt. I feel like we really have a leader. I’m fired up.”
And ready to go?
“I don’t think I’d put it that way.”