As Floridians cast their votes today, the momentum for presidential candidate Mitt Romney has changed significantly. Beginning with Romney’s dynamic debate performance last Thursday, Romney has been welcomed by large crowds at campaign rallies.
I attended an Orlando rally Friday night with my son, John. John is a student at Mount Dora High School and enjoys politics. The Orlando rally was held at the Lanco Paint Company, located in an industrial area near Orlando International Airport. As we arrived, we noticed four TV satellite trucks parked by the loading dock, including C-SPAN and MSNBC. The rally was held inside a large paint warehouse.
Prior to Romney’s arrival, the 400-plus audience members were engaged in taking photos and waving signs for the Republican candidate. The audience included a variety of people — professionals, families and senior citizens. As I looked around the audience I found a “Kids for Mitt” group on a platform waving signs. I have attended several campaign rallies for past presidential candidates, but I have never seen so many families. We stood by a family with a baby wearing a shirt that said “Babies for Mitt.”
The rally brought back memories of watching the championship hockey game at the 2002 Winter Olympics. The crowd at the rally was as excited as the fans at the hockey game. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño mentioned Mitt’s success with the Olympic Games. Two observers nearby commented on the high energy and enthusiasm in the audience. My son was surprised to see adults in suits and ties screaming and waving signs in support of Romney. The media also seemed taken by the highly energized rally.
McCain, the opening speaker, entertained the audience with some political humor. He said that the day after the election four years ago he slept like a baby: He would sleep for two hours and then wake up and cry, sleep for two hours and wake up and cry.
The former presidential candidate went on in all seriousness to praise Romney’s strong debate performance, saying, “Very rarely at these things do you see a knockout. You saw one last night. You saw Mitt Romney at his best.” Even so, McCain called for an end to the debates, saying there were too many.
Romney had two great debates in Florida. My favorite comment from the candidate came from an interviewer after the second debate. When asked about his performance, Romney replied, “I’m no shrinking violet.”
Fortuño followed McCain. The governor praised Romney for his record of leadership and private sector experience, especially his success in creating jobs. Fortuño’s endorsement will help Romney win support of GOP delegates from the Puerto Rico primary and Puerto Rican voters in Orlando.
Following Fortuño’s endorsement, a visibly energized Romney told the crowd how much he enjoyed the Thursday debate. He took note of Gingrich’s complaint that the crowd was packed with Romney supporters and commented about the president: “I’m looking forward to debating Barack Obama. I’m not going to worry about the crowd,” he said. “I’m going to be sure that we tell the truth to Barack Obama and get him out of the White House.”
Romney shared his support of the vision of America’s founding fathers for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness then finished his speech with some patriotic thoughts taken from the song “America the Beautiful.”
The theme of the 2002 Olympic Games was “light the fire within.” Those who attended the Friday rally in Orlando came away lit with high energy and excitement about Romney’s campaign.
Floridians are struggling with today’s economy. Several of my neighbors face foreclosure, and I have several unemployed professionals in my classes at a local college. In the past few weeks Central Florida’s major newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, has run several articles and cartoons opposed to Romney, but it then changed its viewpoint and endorsed Romney on Sunday. According to the Sentinel, “Romney has the mix of political and business credentials that ought to excite Republicans who believe government should run more like a business.”
Former senator Bob Dole’s endorsement has been frequently discussed in the Florida media.
“As president, Mitt Romney will succeed in turning this country around,” Dole wrote. “He rescued a flailing Winter Olympics when it was mired in financial scandal. He was an exceptional governor of Massachusetts, who managed to both balance the state’s budget and cut taxes while dealing with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature.”
There is a growing enthusiasm about Romney as he moves the presidential campaign torch out West.