The battle for the White House besieged Basalt on Thursday, as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney returned to the Roaring Fork Valley to tell a basketball gym packed with 500 people that his five-point plan would dramatically increase jobs and Americans’ take-home pay.
Talking up deregulation and the need to open federal lands to oil, coal and natural gas extraction, Romney was mum on the most pressing question before his campaign: who he will pick as his vice presidential running mate. Accompanied by 10 Republican governors, he instead continued to hammer President Obama three months ahead of the election, saying the incumbent’s policies “have not been successful.”
About 300 or so people were turned away outside the Basalt High School venue, estimated the town’s police chief, Roderick O’Connor. Before the event, Romney volunteers were outside the school organizing people into two long lines, one for people who had registered for tickets to the free event and the other for those who didn’t.
In the line for those with tickets was Yael Defaye, an IT manager in Monte Vista who drove to Basalt with his father-in-law for the speech. Defaye, a native of France who recently became a U.S. citizen, said he was firmly in the Republican candidate’s camp.
“What we need right now is somebody who knows how to run a business because the business of the country is completely down the toilet,” he said. “I come from a socialist country and know all that stuff doesn’t work. It doesn’t help the people, they get a bunch of taxes and stuff like that.”
Dwight Jones, a Carbondale carpenter who said he wasn’t working because he injured his neck, was in the line for the ticket-less.
“I’ve never been to a speech,” he said. “Usually they just show sound bites, and I just want to see how everything develops.”
He said he would be voting for Obama because he thinks the Republican agenda is wrong: “Cutting the money for teachers and roads, I can’t see that that’s a way to build a nation.”
On the tables and chairs for attendees was a “presidential accountability scorecard,” pitting President Obama’s economic record against the former governor’s. The form isn’t complex: For things like jobs, home prices and family income, there was a green upward arrow below Romney’s name; for the negatives, the unemployed and underemployed and budget deficits, the arrows pointed down for Romney. Reversing all of that and changing the color to red represented Obama’s record.
Among the eyebrow-raising moments were Romney saying he wanted New Jersey’s portly governor, Chris Christie, to speak last because he’s “a big closer”; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s repeated referral to the Fryingpan River as the “Basalt River.”
Each of the governors spoke for a few minutes, touting the success of their states and the imperative of electing Romney. The presumptive Republican nominee, during the first few micro-speeches, stood motionless, his hands on his hips or hanging down, a tight grin on his face. He eventually sat down as the governors stood one by one to speak in front of a backdrop audience of Gould Construction workers, Latinos, blond women and, like a great many in the crowd, older white men.
Jan Brewer, Arizona’s governor, spoke about her personal history, saying she lost her husband when she was young and went into business for herself to raise her daughter.
“Get out of our way, government, we know what’s best!” she said, telling Romney that America is behind him.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the first time he met Romney was at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. In those Winter Games there was “some scandal involved,” and it was not an easy task to right, he said. Romney did so, turning the Salt Lake Games into the “most successful, most profitable [Olympics] in our country’s history,” Herbert said. “I saw it happen, and the nation needs the same kind of turnaround.
“We need to make sure the next president is a Republican governor,” he said.
Perry said the difference between “the current president and the next president is that this man trusts you.” Obama doesn’t trust the American public to make its own decisions on health care, education and energy policies, he said. Perry also spoke about the wrongness of a “big, massive [Environmental Protection Agency] that tells you what, when and where you can explore for energy.”
There was not a person in the gym “who doesn’t care about the water that rolls down that Basalt River,” he added.
Other governors, including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, lambasted Obama on education and small business issues.
Christie, as promised, went last, telling the crowd that he felt bad for Obama because the president has missed “the core of the issue that’s made his presidency fail.” He said Obama simply doesn’t know how to lead and that he should apologize “for failing to stand up and do the tough things that need to be done.”
Back outside the school, Breezie Davis, 13 and a student at Aspen Middle School, was volunteering for Romney, who was to attend a fundraiser last night at The Little Nell hotel in Aspen.
“I’m a strong Republican, and I’ve been standing up for him for a while,” she said. “I think [Romney] is going to reverse a lot and lower our taxes.”
Her friend, asked if she wanted to say why she was attending, said, “Oh gosh. If I did I’d probably get kicked out of the Romney camp.”
“She’s a Democrat,” Davis said.