Yes, today I got to stand right in the front, at the barricade, when Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in Bellevue, Washington. My husband was on the program (he introduced the woman who introduced Mitt) and he had some private moments with the candidate. I didn't, but was the first he happened to approach when he jumped down from the stage to engage with the wildly enthused overflow crowd.
Dressed in blue jeans and a rolled-sleeve, striped shirt, he impressed an already dedicated audience with his casual genuine-ness, first speaking off-the-cuff first about his wife, Ann. They met when he was in 4th and she in 2nd grade; he paid no attention until she was a sophomore and he stole her mid-date away from another guy: "I said, 'I live much closer to her than you do...and I did take her home that night, and we've been going steady ever since." That's five sons and 16 grandchildren later, he mentioned.
What surprised me was how articulate he was. I was used to his halting responses to TV debate questions, seeming a bit too timid to take on others without a slight stammer, but today, his speaking style seemed charged; he came across as the eager jolt of energy who can't wait to take on the job of undoing fetters in free enterprise's way. "I can tell you this: I won't be playing 90 rounds of golf when there's so much to get done!" The crowd screamed and stomped.
He talked a lot about jump-starting the economy, by protecting intellectual property, by aligning with other nations in an ethical agreement to promote greater trade, by overhauling the tax code to lower burdens on small businesses. He spoke in support of the military, saying he'd replace Obama's pledge to reduce our forces by 50-100,000 with purchases of ships and planes and an increase of 100,000 additional soldiers. He was strong and inspiring, and lept from his platform to shake hands with pumped supporters.
Then he did something unexpected. My husband was asked to go into an adjacent auditorium, where another thousand supporters who by fire law couldn't fit into the main hall heard Romney's talk. State congresswoman and state Romney chair Kathy McMorris Rodgers was speaking to the attentive crowd; my husband was ushered onto the stage and introduced. He didn't know what was coming, so started praising Mitt's remarks--when suddenly the candidate himself burst into the room, took the microphone from my startled husband, and launched into another talk, punctuated by detailed and moving anecdotes, including one about a young skater, who'd risen from nothing, who was honored at an event to carry a corner of the flag that flew on the Trade Towers on 9-11. Romney described the young man's emotion when relating the experience: "suddenly a gust of wind lifted that flag up into the air, and I felt it was the spirit of the men and women we lost on that day." Most of the audience lost it, too, because of the way Romney told the story.
This was no well-rehearsed performer, but a man clearly touched by his encounters with Americans, and staunchly driven by a vision of the values our nation represents. I don't care for his theology, but I do respect the years he gave to communal leadership, as well as the impact of a church that insists on industry, service, and above all, family. Other religions send out evangelists, but only the Mormons consider it a rite of passage to devote two years in a foreign country at an age normally considered party-time. The messages this imparts at a crucial time of life are selflessness, obligation and responsibility, which may produce straight-laced, nerdy achievers far removed from the pop culture loop, but with well-ingrained practice in the kinds of traits I'd want in a neighbor...or a President.
After his second improvised talk, he again leapt down from the stage to grasp the hands of admirers--and I was the first he clutched. Most politicians who encounter hundreds of palms daily have learned a half-handed grip and a two-second shake-and-pull, but I was struck that Romney looked at me full-face, grasped my hand completely and shook up and down several times. I watched him move through the group along the metal barricade, engaging with his fans in personal moments rather than dutiful swipes.
I didn't get the feeling from his presence he was Presidential. I was convinced of his fitness for the highest office from his ideas, his words, his determination. His presence, however seemed more humble, a guy who wants to make a good impression on everyone he meets because he doesn't assume his own greatness. I find that a contrast with the incumbent.
Too bad more voters couldn't attend the 8 am rally this morning. They would have been reassurred that when Romney is eventually selected, which he will be, Republicans will be represented by a candidate unlike his press image. This is a self-starter, not a rich guy buying his election; a sincere patriot, willing to make personal sacrifices for noble values, and, important to me, a devoted husband and father whose personal life is aligned with his lofty pronouncements.
After viewing and watching Mitt Romney, I'm actually enthused to get into this campaign. The contrast between Barack Obama and Mitt is stark, and I'm confident that the American people--jaded with the "hope and change" that has our nation in its deepest debt ever--will affirm their faith in their own abilities to produce, if only the government would get out of the way.