With just 43 days until the November election, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney returned to swing-state Colorado on Sunday to rally supporters in suburban Jefferson County as part of an aggressive reboot of a campaign that has struggled to get traction in recent weeks.
“This is the state to do it,” Romney told a cheering crowd estimated at 7,000 on the athletic fields at D’Evelyn senior/junior high school. “I’m counting on Colorado — this could be the state that takes us over the edge, this could be the state that gives us the electoral votes we need to win this.”
Although a survey released by Public Policy Polling during Romney’s campaign event — just moments before the candidate took the stage — showed him trailing President Barack Obama in Colorado 51-45, other recent polls have showed a tighter race in the state, and a Rasmussen Reports poll released days earlier showed Romney with a 2-point lead.
In a peppy, 22-minute speech, Romney took jabs at Obama’s economic and foreign policy record, assuring the boisterous crowd that his business experience gives him the tools to spur the economy, create jobs and restore America’s place in the world.
“I happen to think that this election is going to be an election of a very clear choice of two very different paths for America,” Romney said. “On the one hand, you have the president’s choice, which is a choice of status quo, which is saying he’s going to continue the policies of the last four years. He calls his campaign ‘forward.’ I think ‘forewarned’ is a better selection.”
Romney last appeared in Colorado 52 days earlier on Aug. 2 at a rally about 10 miles north, also in Jefferson County, described by political watchers as one of the state’s crucial bellwethers. Obama visited the county earlier this month for an outdoor rally in Golden. The morning after the campaign event in Jefferson County, Romney alit briefly for a rally at the Pueblo Memorial Airport before winging off to Ohio to join running mate Paul Ryan on a bus tour of that state. As the Jefferson County rally concluded, the Romney campaign announced that Ryan would be in Colorado on Wednesday, attending a town hall in Fort Collins and a rally in Colorado Springs.
At the Jefferson County rally, a buoyant Romney sprinkled his speech with stories about entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes and world leaders who have bolstered his faith in the American dream, but he kept the heat on Obama, portraying the current administration as one that doesn’t understand how businesses operate and inept when it comes to righting the economy.
“The president was being interviewed, and he said something a little unusual,” Romney said. “He said you can’t change Washington from the inside, you can only change it from the outside. We’re going to give him that chance on Nov. 6.”
Although building clouds threatened the gathering crowd, by the time Romney’s motorcade arrived — eliciting cheers as it came into sight miles away, the stream of lights skirting the foothills and then turning toward the school — the night was clear and crisp. The rally at times took on a festival feel as state GOP chairman Ryan Call, legislative candidate Amy Attwood, Jefferson County Commissioner John Odom and former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez speechified and Nashville singer JoDee Messina energized the crowd with a set of country songs before Romney’s arrival.
A week after aides said that Romney would bring more specifics to the campaign, the candidate ticked off elements of his five-point plan to invigorate the economy, including policies addressing energy, foreign trade, education, federal spending and support for small businesses.
“My plan is to make sure we take full advantage of oil, gas, coal, nuclear, renewables, and get North America energy independence in eight years,” he said, promising to double the number of oil and gas permits on federal lands, drill on the outer continental shelf, drill in Alaska and approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Calling America “the nation that invented public education,” Romney said the solution to poorly performing schools was simple. “We know what the key is — put our kids and their parents and their teachers first, and put the teachers’ union behind.”
Adding it all up, he said that the country held the keys to its own renewal.
“I understand what it is that made America’s economy work from the very beginning. The Founders recognized something profound, inspired, wise — and that was that our rights came not from the king, but our rights came from God himself,” he said, drawing some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Romney also hit Obama on his handling of foreign affairs and on proposals to cut military spending.
“One more degree in which there’s a dramatic choice between us, and that relates to our role in the world,” Romney said. “The president has a foreign policy that’s been characterized as ‘leading from behind;’ by the way, that’s another word for being a follower.” He added that recent events in the Middle East underlined the need to keep the country’s military so strong that no one would dare challenge U.S. interests abroad.
Earlier that afternoon, prominent Democrats and supportive teachers gathered in a nearby park to castigate the Republican ticket over Romney and Ryan’s education policy.
“Barack Obama embodies the idea of what anybody in this country can do if they get a quality education,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a former Denver Public Schools superintendent. “There couldn’t be a clearer choice between that kind of commitment and the rhetoric of the Romney-Ryan ticket and the budgets that Paul Ryan has continued to put on the floor of the House of Representatives that would slash K-12 education at a time when we need to be investing in it.”
State Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, credited Obama with making education a top priority and warned against funding cuts that could result from a budget written by Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee.
“One thing that is a cornerstone of this country’s success is the promise that all Americans, regardless of income, should have access to an education that allows them to succeed in life if they work hard and they play by the rules. But that’s not the reality we would see under Mr. Romney,” she said, charging that funding for early-childhood education could drop by 20 percent under the Romney-Ryan plan, removing some 3,500 Colorado children from the Head Start program.
One of Schafer’s colleagues, state Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Arvada, had a different take on Romney’s speech, declaring it an unqualified success.
“He took it home, he was straightforward and said what he needed to say,” Ramirez said. “We’ve got a president that’s done nothing but make this country a worse place in the world, and I think Gov. Romney’s the man who can take us out of it. He proved it tonight, he knows what needs to be done and he’s willing to take us in a direction that we can fix this country.”
Calling Romney’s address “inspirational,” state Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, said that the candidate had delivered the right message to woo the state’s voters.
“I can tell you, his support for small business — and Colorado is about 95 percent small businesses — so that is going to be critical for his plan to keep them motivated and keep the environment where they can flourish and grow the jobs that we need rolling, and that should be incredibly encouraging to Coloradans,” she said.
Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, echoed her fellow Republicans’ praise as the rally broke up.
“He looked very, very presidential,” she said. “What I saw more tonight than I had seen before was, it’s not just that he’s running for president, he is going to be president. I think the crowd sensed it.”
Gerou’s husband, Phil, added, “I don’t think he answered the questions so much as he refocused away from the distractions that we’ve seen, and we’ve seen a lot of distractions.”