Politics

11.05.12

Mitt Romney Gives Stump Speech to Long-Suffering Crowd on Last-Minute Pennsylvania Stop

The GOP nominee is making a last-ditch bid for the traditionally blue state’s 20 electoral votes as polls show him behind Obama in the race to 270. David Freedlander reports from a hastily scheduled rally where Romney arrived late and delivered a surprisingly routine speech.

Mitt Romney made a dramatic move yesterday at the tail end of his presidential campaign, heading to a suburb outside Philadelphia in a late play for Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes.

Only, things didn’t turn out exactly as expected, as they often don’t in the end game of a presidential campaign. First, after a boisterous rally at an airplane hangar in Cleveland, the militarylike precision of Romney’s schedule was thrown out of whack when his plane sat for an hour on the tarmac waiting to take off for Philadelphia. The reason was a fire in the control tower at the Philadelphia airport, according to a campaign official. 

The hastily scheduled rally was at Shady Brook Farm (“Where Fun Is Always In Season!” according to its website) a working farm in affluent Bucks County; the kind that hosts pumpkin and apple pickings when the season is right. (The Farmer’s Market closed early to accommodate the politics.) But by the time the candidate arrived, instead of dusk settling on fields of fruits and vegetables, it had turned pitch black. 

Still, 25,000 people were there, one of Romney’s biggest rallies of the entire campaign, and another 5,000 lined the entrance roads, waving American flags and banging thundersticks.  They waved and banged away, some for as long as four hours while they waited for Romney to arrive. They were treated to a long procession of political speeches from everyone but the main event—the lieutenant governor, candidates for Congress and the Senate—and entertained themselves with chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The Marshall Tucker Band played, but instead of revving up the crowd just before Romney walked on stage, they were long gone by the time he got there.  “And how about that music! I understand the Marshall Tucker Band did a great job,” was all Romney could muster. 

Much of Romney’s time these days is devoted to saying the same thing over and over in different places—his five-point plan to rebuild the economy is dusted off in Iowa in the morning, Colorado for lunch, Virginia in time for tea. With little variation, there are exhortations to get your neighbor with the Obama sign in his front yard to change his mind, salutes to the clear-eyed residents of whatever state the campaign plane happened to land in.

There was a reason to think, however, that this time would be different. This was perhaps the most watched speech by either candidate here in the waning days of the campaign. As the Romney campaign has been unable to close a small but persistent gap in the always critical swing state of Ohio, the play for Pennsylvania—which aides to both campaigns had put in the Democratic column since the summer—allowed the GOP to say they were staying on offense, and to publicly at least proclaim that they had a path to victory. Democrats were forced to send both Joe Biden and Bill Clinton to the Keystone State in order to shore up support against the possibility of slippage. 

So it was reasonable to expect that Romney would light into Obama with renewed abandon, make a case to independent voters about how he would change the direction of the country, and that he had a shot, despite some disappointing poll numbers, to steal a Democratic state from under the president’s nose. 

Instead, Pennsylvanians were treated to another recitation of Romney’s stump speech. There was his five-point plan, his promise to open up the Keystone Pipeline, his mocking President Obama for saying Washington can only be changed from the outside, and his promise to help Obama get started on that outside of the White House. The only way anyone even knew that Romney was in Pennsylvania was the theme song from Rocky that greeted him as he made his way on stage—a standard practice for any pol stumping in Pennsylvania—and that he proclaimed “Wow, what a Philadelphia welcome! Thank you so much!” 

By midway through, some of those Philadelphians apparently felt as if they had been welcoming enough. Some tried to leave through the back of the rally, and after first being prevented from doing so by the Secret Service—which led to a brief conspiracy theory flare-up on Twitter that they were being forced to stay in order to pad the headcount of the rally—began to leave in droves. The reasons were simple and understandable—they were cold, the kids were restless, they had been waiting for three hours, the lines to the bathroom were too long, they wanted to beat traffic. But still, it didn’t make for particularly good visuals, with TV cameras catching, just as Romney was hitting his high notes—about the flag that a supporter had given him that survived the Challenger spaceship disaster, his recitation of the verses of “America the Beautiful”—to see a stream of supporters heading for the exits. 

The only way anyone knew Romney was in Pennsylvania was the theme song from Rocky and that he proclaimed “Wow, what a Philadelphia welcome!”

It is hard to know exactly how close the Romney campaign believes it to be in Pennsylvania. They could be hoping for Democrats to divert resources, in which case, mission accomplished. Because it is one of the few battleground states that haven’t seen a slew of television ads, a late influx could sway voters more than usual. 

And Pennsylvanians, at least those on the Main Line, sound like Romney kind of voters. They are affluent, socially moderate. The voters The Daily Beast spoke with weren’t the kind who threw in their lot in with Herman Cain and only came around to Romney reluctantly.  

“I have liked Romney since way back in 2007,” said Francis Gallagher, 52, of Yardley. “You look at some guys in Congress who say this, that or the other thing about the other party; you can’t do that and work with people. Mitt won’t be like that. He has that business kindness.” 

“You are looking at the next president,” John Moran said after the rally was over. “I just like the sound of the man.” 

As he spoke, Romney was leaving the rally too. Fireworks lit up the night over the farm, blasting off over Pennsylvania without any problems.