Mitt Romney’s campaign brought out Republican star power Friday night, with governors, senators and dozens of other political leaders from around the nation urging Ohioans to make the difference in an election that could come down to “the ultimate" swing state.
“Your state is the one I’m counting on,” Romney told a crowd of 30,000 at The Square at Union Centre, believed to be the largest gathering of the entire campaign season. “This is the one we have to win.”
National leaders like Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Speaker of the House John Boehner to campaign in Boehner’s hometown, a clear Republican stronghold.
Those prominent Republicans and dozens of other governors and senators will fan out across the country the next three days as part of the Romney-Ryan Real Recovery Road Rally, taking aim at nearly a dozen states that the campaign believes are key to a tight election.
The majority of polls show President Barack Obama with a narrow lead in Ohio and nationally, but the margins in seven key swing states — including Obama’s lead in Ohio, and Romney’s leads in Florida and Virginia — are less than 3 percent, or within the polls’ margins of error.
Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, said with the race so close and the differences between Obama and Romney so large, it is crucial for supporters to work hard in the final days, knocking on doors and urging others to vote.
“We want to wake up on Wednesday morning and look back and know we met the moment,” Ryan said. “Mitt Romney is the right man for this moment.”
It didn’t take much to fire up the crowd. In 2008, when Ohio as a whole backed Obama, Butler County supported McCain by a 60-38 vote. And in a tight Republican primary this March, Butler County gave Romney a 7-point margin over Rick Santorum.
Before any of the 17 speakers took the stage, thousands of supporters jammed the area around the stage, chanting “Four more days” instead of “Four more years.”
Sitting behind the stage were hundreds of Romney supporters in red, white and blue shirts, arranged so they appeared to make huge American and Ohio flags.
Adding to the festival nature, musician Kid Rock opened the event with a 40-minute concert, ending his show with the “Born Free” song that the Romney campaign has used as an anthem at its rallies. Kid Rock left the stage with a call of “Go Romney, we can get this done Ohio.”
Romney adviser Scott Jennings said despite the saturation coverage of the campaign in recent months, there’s still work to do in these final days.
“We’re trying to use the last few days before Election Day to maximize our turnout, and we’re also making a closing argument,” Jennings said. “Our closing argument is a positive vision for America where we’re cutting taxes, getting the government out of the way of job creation, using our energy, cutting the debt – it’s a positive path forward.”
Ohio Obama spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw responded that speakers at the event were “hyper-partisan” and aired far-right wing attacks that had been previously debunked.
“Anyone looking for a positive, forward-looking vision at Mitt Romney’s Ohio event tonight was surely disappointed,” Kershaw said. “If this is Mitt Romney’s closing argument for the American people, he’s making a compelling case for why we can’t afford to elect him.”
The standing room only crowd cheered the loudest and waved their flags and inflatable “thundersticks” hardest when the distinguished speakers mentioned the military, the economy and criticized Obama.
Most people said they only waited about an hour to get in, but the lines snaked around several times before people hit the security station.
Caitlyn Brandenburg, 22, and her 16-year old brother Drew of Fairfield were the first out of the airport style metal detectors. They secured prime real estate at the gate that cordoned off the podium. Caitlyn was the first person in line, arriving at the venue at 8 a.m.
“I like to think about my future. I like to think ahead, and politics is one of the most important things to me,” she said. “It’s our future and our country, and I make sure I’m informed about things.”
Debbie Seiler of Maineville admitted she is something of a “rally junky” — she attended a Romney event in Bond Hill and was in the front row. She said she got to shake his hand. Rallies like the West Chester Twp. event are the shot in the arm that the election needs, she said.
“It is very exciting, the crowd really gets into it and everybody’s all pumped and things are looking really good for us,” she said. “It’s just fun to be around like-minded people.”
Morrow resident Jeff Dollar said he hopes the rally will get out the vote on Tuesday.
“I want to get back to America’s values,” he said. “It’s exciting, hopefully if I get excited my excitement will spread.”
Lisa Donathan of Fairfield Twp. said she was impressed with the turnout and energy of the rally.
“I think it was very high spirited, the turnout was impressive,” she said.
Her mother, Menita Donathan, said she was on the fence before the rally.
“I’m going to vote for him,” she said.
Retiree Eileen Menna of Huber Heights said she was excited to see Romney for the first time, adding that she likes him better than Obama both on economic and social-issue stances.
“I back him, and I want to show him that,” she said. “Romney’s had business experience. Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s never run anything … until he was president.”
Gretchen Franck of Centerville, a paralegal, said she thinks Romney is charismatic, but she focused mainly on economics.
“I am the middle class, and I don’t feel the middle class is getting a fair shake from the Obama administration,” she said. “He ran his first platform on the middle class, but for the past four years he’s done nothing to help me. … The more tax breaks they can give the middle class the more we’re going to pump into the economy.”
Repeatedly in his speech, Romney tried a twist on the 2008 Obama campaign’s strategy, talking about “real change.” Romney told supporters that Obama had promised change, but had failed to deliver it, not meeting promises on lowering the debt, cutting unemployment, and governing in a bipartisan way.
“It comes down to this,” Romney said. “Do you want more of the same, or do you want real change?”
While the jobs report out Friday showed more jobs created than analysts had expected, Romney pointed to the unemployment rate, which rose 0.1 point to 7.9 percent. That is down from 10 percent a year into Obama’s term, but 0.1 point higher than when Obama took office in January 2009.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana took aim at another of Obama’s slogans, asking what the president means with the word forward. “Who in the world would vote for ‘forward’ when we’re going 80 mph at a brick wall?” Jindal said.
Romney closed by talking about leadership.
“With the right leadership, America is coming roaring back,” Romney said. “The only thing that stands between us and some of the best years we’ve ever known is a lack of leadership. That’s why we have elections. This Tuesday is a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do.”