Romney 'Victory Rally' draws thousands
ASHEVILLE — With mentions of Boy Scouts, Joe Biden and Big Bird, Mitt Romney's Victory Rally revved up a large and enthusiastic crowd Thursday night at the U.S. Cellular Center. Between joyous whoops and dramatic boos, nearly 8,000 people packed into the arena made their support abundantly clear throughout the night, which was studded with Republican political stars.
Romney made sure to return the favor.
"Based on what I'm seeing here this evening, I'm going to go out on a limb and say we're going to win North Carolina," he said to thunderous applause.
For 20-plus minutes, he spoke mostly of his vision for America as a whole, but Romney did make his speech local at times, mentioning his meeting with evangelist Billy Graham and thanking Western North Carolina native Ronnie Milsap for performing earlier in the rally. He also praised fellow state Republicans who had spoke that night, from Congressman contender Mark Meadows to Congressman Pat McHenry.
Switching back to national news, Romney got huge applause breaks while mentioning his decisive win in last week's debate with President Barack Obama and that night's upcoming debate between Vice President Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.
"Now, I enjoyed my debate about a week ago. That was a good experience," he said, with a smile, "and I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy tonight's debate, as well."
That statement got laughs and cheers, as did his comment that Obama's plan for the country shouldn't be called "forward" but "forewarned." His promise to not cut military spending or raise taxes on small businesses and the middle class also drew hearty applause. Many of Romney's points were more serious in nature, however, focused more on what he sees as the philosophical tenets of the American people than specific issues.
Illustrating his point with real-life tales of Boy Scouts and a fallen Navy SEAL, he explained again and again that part of being American is to "live for something bigger than yourself."
"These are people with big hearts and sound principles," he said.
Obama wants to fundamentally change America, Romney told the fired-up crowd.
"I do not want to change America's foundation," he said. "I want to make it stronger."
Variations on this same theme were doled out by nearly every other speaker that night, from well-known politicos to those up and coming. Dan Forest, a nominee for Lt. Governor, stressed that this election might be the last chance to keep America from tipping "into socialism," while Meadows explained that this country "has got to make a change."
Speaker of the House John Boehner said that Obama "doesn't really understand America" and dismissed the polls that have put the president consistently ahead of Romney for months.
"Elections are not won based on polls," he said. "They're won based on who shows up to vote."
Piggybacking on this idea, former Arkansas governor and current Fox News personality Mike Huckabee told the audience to encourage all their Republican friends and relatives to vote.
He also joked that they should forcibly keep Obama supporters away from the polls. If they know any Democrats, tell them the election "has been postponed to December," Huckabee said.
On Election Day, "Don't let them out of their house," he added. "Let the air out of their tires if you have to."
As the crowd laughed and clapped, he quipped that those comments might be splashed across the headlines the next day. He then got more serious, explaining that there's never been a clearer choice in an election and that America's future is riding on its outcome.
"If you want to make sure you keep your job, you better make sure Obama loses his," he said, echoing the night's de facto theme.
After the rally, as people spilled onto the street, things were fairly calm, with a few tables selling schwag and only a small group of protestors clashing with a handful of Romney supporters. Yells and obscenities were unleashed by both sides, but all was over fairly quickly and monitored the entire time by a heavy police presence.
A few blocks away from the fray, Waynesville residents John and Margaret LaFata still looked jazzed from the events of the night. Eating dinner with two of their children, Sean and Daniel, they explained that they were happy their boys got to be part of history. John estimated the family was only about 30 feet away from Romney at times. Daniel even shook his hand.
"He said, 'Hey buddy," Daniel recalled.
Both John and Margaret seemed impressed by Romney's presence, explaining that they got a better sense of the former governor from the rally.
"I think he's very patriotic," John said.
Though John seems set on supporting Romney, Margaret insisted that she's still figuring out who to support. As a mom, she's not so worried about someone's party's affiliation.
"I just vote my conscience," she said, explaining that she plans to do just that in November.