Impressions from three Campaign Rallies
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been able to attend local campaign rallies for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The events were all a little different, given the characteristics of the candidates and the campaigns.
On January 12, Mitt Romney held an event at the Palm Beach County Civic Center. The rally had been delayed an hour by a scheduling issue, announced the day prior, which may have accounted for the long line of people waiting to get in when we arrived about a half hour early. Once inside the dark, windowless room it looked like a large crowd, but that was deceiving as the room was relatively small and half was roped off for a press area. There was a raised platform in the middle of the space so the crowd could completely surround it. A large press contingent was present with the front of the center crowded with video trucks and a large area of tables for reporters to file stories from their laptops. At this point, Governor Romney was considerably ahead in the polls and press accomodation was a feature of his events. Many of the local Republican establishment were present, including former Congressman Clay Shaw. Many in the crowd we spoke with were still undecided, but leaning to the Governor as the candidate with the best choice to defeat the President. The crowd was in the 500 range, including an overflow room.
Governor Romney’s speech was quite well received and mostly positive, in a Reaganesque “morning in America” sort of way. He contrasted Obama “managing the decline” of America versus his seeing our best days ahead of us. Although I didn’t feel that he really “fired up” the crowd, he did generate lots of applause and came across more sincere and genuine than he sometimes does on television. Sprinkled throughout his address were references to the founding documents, particularly the Declaration, which seems to be a theme in all the campaigns now. When he was done, he worked the crowd for 10 or 15 minutes and seemed to enjoy the interaction. I came away thinking that although he was not my first choice in the primary, I could support this man if he wins the nomination. Event synopsis: professional, conventional, low-key.
On Sunday, 7/22, Senator Rick Santorum paid a visit to Wings Plus in Coral Springs. A portable enclosed stage had been set up at the end of the parking lot and a lot of local politicians were in evidence. Michael Warns and his band livened things for the crowd of about 300 who filled the parking lot along with a handful of media. The candidate arrived without fanfare.
The Senator gave an inspiring 40 minute speech, filled with policy positions, strong statements about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and a clear contrast from his opponents who he painted as having supported both health care mandates and the bank bailouts. He made a good case that he has been consistent in his conservative positions, even when it was not popular. He offered the proposition that is compelling: that he would be better positioned than either Romney or Gingrich to win the swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. As he has done throughout the campaign, Sentator Santorum has been calm and steady – almost subtle in his appeal compared to the drama coming out of the other campaigns. At the end of the day this may win if the others burn out, but his style is not garnering the same level of media attention as the others. The crowd of mostly Santorum supporters was receptive and supportive. Event synopsis: focused, clear, low budget.
Finally, on Wednesday 7/25, Newt Gingrich also paid a visit to Wings Plus. The location was the same, but the enclosed stage had been replaced by a low platform and a large arch of red, white and blue balloons. The event was originally announced for 10:30 AM, but postponed to 11:30 with little notice. The candidate did not actually arrive until 12:45 as the crowd added to their sunburns in the hot parking lot. The entrance was fitting for a candidate who has admitted to the adjective “grandiose”. First the sound system cranked up with some impressive flourishes that seemed reminiscent of the Roman Empire. Then the large bus with a three foot high face of Newt pulled up behind the platform accompanied by a police motorcycle escort with lights flashing. Finally, after giving us a few minutes to absorb the scene, the candidate and wife Callista emerged from the cavernous vehicle to the cheers of the enthusiastic crowd of 1200 or so. The crowd differed a little from the Santorum and Romney events as it seemed more diverse and with a wider spread of ages. There was even a short presentation by representatives of high school and college Yourg Republican groups.
Newt Gingrich is very good on the stump. His speech was full of red meat and stark contrasts between him and Barack Obama (“paychecks or foodstamps”). He easily deflected and ridiculed a heckler in the crowd (who turned out to be former Lake Worth Commissioner Cara Jennings). Of the three, Newt made the most direct appeal for support in the primary, and laid out how he would conduct the general election if he were the nominee. If the President were to turn him down on his offer of a series of 3 hour “Lincoln – Douglas” debates for example, he claims he will follow Lincoln’s example and follow Obama around the country, appearing in the same places 4 hours delayed. Hope he has the money for a 747 like Air Force One. As we were walking back to the car – a gentleman talking to his wife said – he sure gives a good speech and is a good talker but can you trust him? That is the rub. Event synopsis: Grandiose, disorderly, compelling.
Some pictures from the events: