Romney revs up Denver crowd before debate

The Colorado Statesman

DENVER — Surrounded by historic airplanes inside a cavernous former Air Force hangar, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a boisterous crowd on Monday that he relished the opportunity in two days to “describe the pathway forward for America” in the first of three presidential debates with President Barack Obama, set for Wednesday night at the University of Denver.

“We’ll get to describe our respective views, and I believe the people of Colorado will choose a better way forward for our country. We can’t afford four more years like the last four years,” he told an estimated 6,000 supporters packed inside the Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum in the Lowry neighborhood.

“We’ll get to describe our respective views, and I believe the people of Colorado will choose a better way forward for our country,” Republican nominee Mitt Romney tells a Denver rally on Oct. 1.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Although analysts and prominent Romney surrogates have said that Wednesday’s debate is a must-win chance to reset a campaign that has sagged in the polls over the last month, the candidate himself downplayed the stakes of the first head-to-head meeting with the Democrat he hopes to deny a second term.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney shakes hands with Broncos legend John Elway after the Superbowl winner introduced him at a rally on Oct. 1 at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“There’s going to be all the scoring of winning and losing. In my view it’s not so much winning and los-ing or even the people themselves, the president and myself — it’s about something bigger than that,” Romney said. “The American people are going to have to make their choice as to what kind of America they want. So I look forward to these debates, I’m delighted we’re going to have three debates. It will be a conversation with the American people that will span almost a month.”

Former Gov. Bill Owens tells a crowd of Romney supporters that the presidential race is neck-and-neck in Colorado at a rally on Oct. 1.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

After Wednesday’s showdown — which could draw an audience of as many as 80 percent of the nation’s voters, according to a survey released on Tuesday — Romney and Obama debate two more times, on Oct. 16 and 22. Their running mates, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden, meet just once, on Oct. 11.

The crowd thundered loudest when football legend John Elway took the microphone to briefly introduce Romney, whose campaign he endorsed late last week in a fundraising email.

“I must say, today has been a very good day,” the two-time Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos quarterback smiled on the heels of the team’s 37-6 trouncing of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. “Not only because of what happened yesterday, but because I get the opportunity to introduce to you the next president of the United States, Gov. Mitt Romney!”

At the Denver rally — his third in just over a week, following a pair of rallies in suburban Jefferson County last Sunday and at the Pueblo airport the next morning — Romney noted that Colorado was home to the Air Force Academy, NORAD and the conservative Focus on the Family, which he called “committed to preserving the foundation of America.” He added that the state is “also home to a pretty darn good football team. And one more thing: I think this is the home of the place that will elect the next president of the United States of America. I believe the people of Colorado will choose a better way forward for this country.”

Since December, Romney has only led in two of the 28 publicly released polls of Colorado voters followed by TPM’s Poll Tracker, and two of the surveys showed the candidates dead even. The site’s rolling average of recent polling gives Obama a 3.8-point lead over Romney in Colorado.

Romney’s 18-minute speech was accompanied by the rumble of hundreds of blue and white thundersticks wielded by supporters arrayed between huge cut-out letters that spelled J-O-B-S behind the candidate.

“Jobs is job one under my administration,” he said, sounding the dominant theme of his campaign. “We’re going to get America working again by helping small business.”

Outside the hangar, as Romney supporters waited to pass through security, an airplane hired by the liberal group Moveon.org circled overhead trailing a banner that read, “HEY MITT! WORRIED ABOUT US NOW? — THE 47%”

It’s a reference to a video recording of Romney telling wealthy donors that it’s his job “not to worry about those people,” after saying that he won’t get the votes of the Americans “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims” and don’t pay federal income tax. “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney continued in the recording, which has been the basis of several Obama ads airing heavily in Colorado and other swing states this week.

Romney closed his speech with an appeal for supporters to reach out to voters ready to abandon Obama.

“I need you to go out and find people and say, ‘You know what, it’s not working,’” Romney said. “‘We need someone who will get this America going again.’ I will, with your help.”

It was a message that resonated with Longmont City Councilwoman Katie Witt, who said she brought three friends to the rally, and that they were all enthused about getting out the vote.

“I really feel the momentum, and I think Mitt’s going to get it here in Colorado,” Witt said. “I have independent friends and Democrat friends who say they cannot vote for Barack Obama again — the economic message is resonating.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com