August 16, 2012I was one of the lucky ones who went to see Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan – the presumptive Republican presidential ticket – in High Point on Sunday, August 12. Lucky because I got in.
The crowd was much larger than anticipated by the campaign, the police or the people who showed up. Most of the crowd estimates I've heard ranged from 10,000 to 16,000, but that doesn't take into account all of the people who had left. I was walking in shortly after noon and there was such a stream of people going the other way I kept asking if I was going the wrong way. One person in a group explained they were leaving because they knew there was no way they were going to get in and they didn't' want to stand out in the sun to see a bus drive by.
City Councilmember and Republican District 27 state Senate candidate Trudy Wade said she never even got out of her car. She drove over, saw the huge crowd, turned around and went home.
In comparison, Vice President Joe Biden spoke to 660 in Raleigh the next day. There seemed to be more than 660 people waiting for Romney's bus to leave an hour after he finished speaking.
I got in because I had a press pass, so I didn't have to wait in the line that went down the road out of sight in one direction and then snaked around to disappear behind a building in the other.
I went through the normal wanding process, and then they had a dog sniff my camera bag. I had been carrying our little kitten Grace around in my camera bag earlier in the week. It actually didn't work very well as a kitten carrier, but I wondered how the dog would react to the strong odor of kitten. The dog, of course, being extremely well trained didn't react at all.
When I got inside the Absolute Style Furniture factory where the floor had been cleared of machines to make room for 1,300 people, Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes was in the "pool press area," which was set up nicely for the press that was traveling with Romney and had not yet arrived. Since Romney wasn't there and, according to Barnes, was not all that close, I hung around and talked politics with Barnes. I tried to wheedle some information out of him, but didn't get much.
The press that travels with the candidate is well taken care of, but at events like this the local press is put back in some corner where you can see and sometimes even hear the candidates. I've had to use a telephoto lens just to see who was speaking. This room was not that big but some chairs against the back wall had "PRESS" on them, which did not look good to me. I didn't think they were going to put The New York Times and The Washington Post reporters back there, but one appeared to have The Rhino Times written all over it.
Barnes had told me the bus was still a few minutes away, and a nice Romney staffer allowed me to go up to the front row and talk to Sixth District Congressman Howard Coble and Fifth District Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.
Foxx knows Ryan well and said that she was one of the first to sign on to his "Path to Prosperity" budget plan. When I asked her what she thought about Ryan she said, "Good. He is a good man."
She added, "He's a very sincere human being. He knows what he believes."
She also said something that others, such as Erskine Bowles on the other side of the aisle, all agree on. She said, "I've never seen a member as well versed as he is on the budget."
She said that when she signed on to support his Path to Prosperity that he warned her it was going to be controversial and that she would be criticized for it. But Foxx said that she believed in the plan as well as in Ryan.
Foxx also said that both Ryan and Romney were "true public servants." She said they were interested in holding office because they felt a call to serve the nation and that true public servants were different from most of the folks in Washington.
Coble said, "He would have been my first choice." He said that he was very pleased with Romney's pick and about Ryan he said, "He wears well."
Coble has known Ryan since he was 28 years old and was first elected to Congress.
At one point one of the Romney people tried to get me out of the way, but Foxx kindly told her that she was being interviewed, which was true. And coming from a congresswoman it carried some weight. They let me stay, which put me on the floor in between the front row of the audience and the photographers from the national media.
So I was doubly lucky. Instead of being outside with people waiting in the hot sun, or inside but on the very back row against the wall, I was up front sitting on the floor right behind the real photographers.
Pat McCrory and Sen. Richard Burr were the first to appear at the podium. And McCrory, who is way ahead in the polls, did a great job of getting the crowd energized – not that it needed much help.
McCrory grew up right down the road in Jamestown. And despite all his years representing the people of North Carolina in Washington Burr still lives in Winston-Salem. So having two hometown boys up at the podium was appreciated.
Something Burr and Ryan have in common is that neither one has actually moved to Washington, DC. Both still live in their hometowns, although it isn't likely that Ryan will be home very much for the next few months, or years, depending on how it goes.
Romney and Ryan came out with their wives, and all four of Ryan's kids. The speeches were good – no teleprompters, no notes. Ryan is good in front of a crowd, and he introduced Romney as "someone who knows from experience that if you have a small business you did build that." (The quote is from transcripts of his stump speech, not from the actual event.)
Romney echoed that theme. He is not as good a speaker as Ryan, but he has clearly gotten much more comfortable in front of a crowd. Romney said that if a student worked hard and made the honor roll, he gave credit to the student, not the bus driver who took him to school.
Ryan is also good working the crowd – spending five seconds with a person and then moving on, not appearing to be in a hurry, moving pretty fast but giving people that moment of his full attention.
Two notable events in the line: One was when someone wanted to take a picture of one of Ryan's sons, who looked completely bored (as you would expect a young boy who had just had to listen to the same speech again). Then Janna Ryan, the boy's mother, grabbed him and said, "They want to take your picture." And the boy beamed, seemingly entranced with the idea that this complete stranger wanted his picture.
Another was when Romney and Ryan saw Foxx and Coble who I was standing beside. Both times their faces lit up, as you would expect when someone spots friends in a sea of strangers – friendly strangers but strangers nonetheless.
So, much thanks to Congresswoman Virginia Foxx for letting me sit up front. I highly recommend that anyone who can vote for Foxx do so early and often. If I didn't like my own congressman so much I'd consider moving a few miles west just to vote for Foxx.
I failed to mention that it was hot. If you pack 1,200 bodies or so into a factory that does not have an air-conditioning system designed for that kind of crowd in North Carolina in the summer, it's going to be hot, and it was.
What I thought was really sweet was, after the event, when I thanked Melanie McNamara, the owner of the Absolute Style Furniture factory for holding the rally, and she said, "I apologize for it being so hot." That's Southern hospitality for you. It had to have been a tremendous amount of work for her, but we were all her guests and she was genuinely concerned about us.
Driving back to Greensboro I somehow got in between the Romney buses and some of their police escort. I was never close enough to see a bus, and the police passed me like I was standing still, but I was driving up Business I-85 to Greensboro and all of the entrance ramps were closed. So it was just me and a couple of other cars that had somehow gotten on the road. It was a very pleasant drive home. I'm going to see about getting a police escort more often.