It’s been a long time since I attended a Republican rally, but Red Rocks provides a draw for any political junkie. To steal a line from Chris Matthews, it sent ‘a real thrill up my leg.’ The last time I did any politicking at Red Rocks was 1980, when we were circulating petitions to create an elected Board of Directors for RTD. The McNichols administration pretty much looked the other way concerning marijuana enforcement in those years, and I was asked to hold more than one doobie while Willie Nelson fans grappled with my clipboards. Two of us snagged more than 8,000 signatures in a single afternoon and evening. Not a bad day’s work.
I arrived at the Red Rocks turnoff right at 4:30 p.m., just as the entrances were scheduled to open. Fifteen minutes later I parked in the next to last row of the lower north lot, the upper lot already having filled to capacity. This was my first inkling that we were going to have an overflow crowd. Since I drive a new car, there are no bumper stickers that might give away my personal predilections. I did, however, remove a 99% magnet just in case it sent the wrong message. Better to travel incognito. I then trudged to the south entrance, which was designated for press access. A very slow line snaked down the rock wall and into the parking area at the trading post. No one seemed to know whether there was any special access for media, so I simply joined the crowd.
These Republicans were exceedingly patient and polite, and few of them were discussing politics. When a group with VIP tickets began to force its way along the line, the remaining 99% grumbled about ‘waiting your turn.’ The woman directly in front of me suggested we deliberately block any further such incursions in an admirably spontaneous act of rebellion. It didn’t strike me as a good time to flash my press credentials. Young volunteers with clipboards were positioned every twenty or thirty feet recruiting phone bank volunteers. A nearby wit suggested he would bring his own clipboard next time, since they were the only people who seemed to be able to move up and down the queue. It took us nearly an hour to sight the TSA metal detectors.
A volunteer waved a sign asking members of the press to identify themselves. Upon confessing, I was swiftly whisked forward to the security screening station. A few jeers trailed me as I departed, and I countered back with, “Just one more reason to dislike the media!” That riposte generated several good-natured chuckles. I must admit, I felt a little like I was betraying my newfound comrades in line. Once inside there were a lot of families, many with their teens in tow. If the Democrats claim to be the party of blue collar America, the crowd at Red Rocks undermined that claim. This looked a lot like a Saturday afternoon trip to Wal-Mart. I’m not quite sure about the agenda of the PATRIOT GUARDIAN RIDERS in their expensively embroidered leather motorcycle jackets, but everyone else seemed to be there to have a good time. I was startled that the volunteer who escorted me into the press corral was displaying a peace medallion pendant around her neck. These Republicans didn’t seem such a bad bunch.
Bob Beauprez warmed the crowd with an energetic bit of cheerleading, while volunteers distributed homemade signs that looked just a little too legible and uniform to actually be homemade among those seated on stage risers behind the podium. The front row brandished ‘Democrats for Romney’ placards, and, sure enough, I recognized a North Denver Democrat in the line-up. A Centennial Boy Scout Troop conducted the presentation of colors complete with the Pledge of Allegiance and a rendition of our National Anthem. One nice thing about Red Rocks is that virtually everyone had an unobstructed sight line of the stage. A nice touch was the distribution of red, yellow and white tee shirts at the center of the amphitheatre replicating the red C and sun in the Colorado flag.
Rodney Atkins, a B list country singer warmed up the crowd, followed by Kid Rock. There was a sprinkling of ‘No Mas Obama’ tees, along with ‘MOMS Drive the Economy’ and Romney/Ryan thunder sticks for those in the first fifteen or twenty rows. To while away my time, I engaged a group of inordinately enthusiastic young Republicans (identifiable by their blue on white Young Republican shirts). Their happiness appeared to have been lubricated with plastic baggie vodka shots they smuggled through security. My kind of people. I asked them whether they’d seen the polling results earlier this year that found conservatives are generally happier and get more sex than liberals.
They responded in some disbelief. I acknowledged it felt counter-intuitive that pot-smoking, hippie liberals weren’t mating like joyous rabbits. I asked them to go with it and answer my chicken and egg question, “Do you get more sex because you’re happy? Or, are you happy because you’re getting more sex?” There seemed to be a gender division, the guys happy because they were getting some, and the ladies amenable because they were happy. We settled on the economic proposition that this might be a truly virtuous circle. With most speakers getting a bellowing response to the query, “Are you ready to take your country back?” I asked whom it was they wanted to take it back from? Surprisingly, it wasn’t Obama so much as it was “the liberals in Washington.”
Not that they are crazy about Obama, either. When I asked about Obamacare, they were unanimously opposed, although one young woman quipped she might change her mind if she couldn’t find a job before she turned 26. During a discussion of foreign affairs, the lone Iraq War veteran in the group observed that Americans only serve as targets in the Middle East. “Since they are perfectly happy to kill each other, we ought to get out of their way. Send guns and a good luck card!” That probably isn’t a policy that would win approval from the Council on Foreign Relations, but it made more than a little sense. Governor Susanne Martinez of New Mexico took the stage and we had to cut off our conversation.
In the only churlish moment of the evening, Governor Martinez made the observation that Barack Obama was a good man, who loved his country. A faltering wave of boos and catcalls ensued, but even these were in the minority. If Martinez is to become a next generation national Republican leader that many hope for, she will need to take a few public speaking lessons. The Governor stepped on her own best lines, evinced the vitality of a houseplant and kept turning away from the microphone. Next, Paul Ryan thumped the drum on behalf of Romney’s specific plan (5 parts, as you know) to rescue the economy and then we finally reached the main event. Romney appeared a little stunned at the size and ferocity of his audience, framed, as it was, between towering sandstone walls. Of course, you’ve already heard his speech.
Thousands arriving late at Red Rocks were fenced out, yet stood patiently in the cold and dark, nonetheless. They couldn’t see or hear anything more than the occasional roar of the crowd, but they didn’t leave. I gave a lift to a family of four who had parked in the commuter lots along I-70 and then hiked three miles only to be turned away. I rather liked them and they didn’t seem to mind hitching a ride with a Democrat. We could agree that it was important for them to have been there, showing their support for their team.
Miller Hudson is a columnist for The Colorado Statesman. He has served in the Colorado House of Representatives from north Denver in the past, and currently is a public affairs policy consultant.