Mitt Romney’s bus tour through small towns in swing states stopped in Davenport on Monday.
It was, for the most part, your typical campaign event: lots of flag waving, patriotic music, even a boy scout troop in the audience.
But these days Governor Romney seems a lot more relaxed, and has a lot more momentum, than the candidate Iowans remember from the caucuses.
Romney’s campaign staff told the Davenport crowd again and again: get really excited. “Just a few minutes before the governor gets here, so we need that enthusiasm. We need those flags! We need those Romney signs waving when he arrives!”
They didn’t need to worry – when the Romney bus rolled up and the news cameras went live, the crowd did their job. The former Massachusetts governor took the stage to chants of "Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!"
“Thank you so much! It’s been so much fun to go across the country and be with Anne, and what a privilege it is to have family – yeah, you can go ahead and sit down, I’m gonna go on for about an hour and half ."
For Romney, that’s actually a pretty good joke. And for the candidate who often seems stiff, or removed from average Americans, this is a slightly looser style – if not a different a message.
“This president has amassed almost as much public debt as almost all previous presidents combined! How about taking that money, and putting it on the backs of the coming generation, does that give our kids a fair shot?” The crowd shouted back: "No!"
This bus tour is also the unofficial Romney victory lap: now that he’s essentially sewn up the nomination, he’s rolling from rally to rally in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. And he knows what those crowds want to hear: the first part of his speech is all anti-Obama. In the last half, Romney gets to his own ideas.
“Let me tell you how I’m going to get us back to work again, right of the top of my list here: I want to take advantage of our energy resources in this country. We’re going to actually mine our coal and use our coal, we’re gonna use our natural gas, we’re going to use our oil, we’re going to drill for oil.”
Still, this tour is less about specifics than it is about rallying the base. In Iowa, Evangelical voters have been hesitant, at best, to get behind Romney in a big way. And the state’s GOP just wrapped up a convention with lots of fireworks over Ron Paul, but not so much for Romney.
So these events are aimed at the Republican core: smaller, mostly blue-collar towns with largely white populations. And there were plenty of factory workers and retirees at the Davenport event. But amid the sea of gray hair and sun visors was eighteen-year old Max Halm, who drove all the way from La Salle, Illinois:
“Well I’ve got two Romney pins on, two stickers, my Romney tee-shirt. I've got some more pins in my bag, and then more in the car."
His best friend Ali Braboy of Dalzell, IL supports President Obama. But they manage to keep the peace, with some good lessons for everyone living in a contentions swing state these next few months:
“I mean, we disagree, but we leave it where it’s at, you know? We don’t let it tear us apart or anything like that.” Asked if she will take Halm to attend an Obama rally in return, she seemed game:“I’ll ask him, if he’ll go with me, sure!” But Halm wasn't so certain. “Might be a cold day before I went there, but I’d consider it,” he laughed.
Romney wraps up his bus tour – at least for now – in Michigan. Like Iowa, and all his other stops these last few days, President Obama carried that state in the last election. But Romney’s hopeful that a unified party – and a revved up one – can help put at least a few of those critical states in his column come November.
Kate Wells, for Iowa Public Radio news.