Having waited hours for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the full house at the Pensacola Bay Center was dancing in the aisles. Literally, to a house band called Mass Confusion that had already torn apart Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and was doing the same to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock’n’Roll.”
In a few minutes, the crowd would be doing the wave. Later on, some chants of “USA!” and “Ten More Days!” This was a pep rally for the home team.
“Here we are again,” Rep. Jeff Miller, (R-Fla.) told the crowd. “Clinging to our guns and religion.”
The Romney team probably feels safe about having this region of Florida tapped down tight on Election Day. If they had any doubts, the reception he received at the Pensacola event—which the candidate described as a “welcome like no other”—must have been reassuring.
The crowd was jazzed, and it wasn’t just because of Mass Confusion’s performance. They had swamped the formerly named Pensacola Civic Center in droves because they were hungry to hear the GOP candidate talk about changing the leadership in the White House. But first, they would hear from a line of local and state officials in the order of their political-worth—Florida’s GOP Power Pagoda.
They were greeted by Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. Pumping his fist in the air, he welcomed Romney to the “upside” and talked about the military and the economy. The mayor described the candidate as “a man of courage, character.”
Next, state legislators Rep. Clay Ingram and Rep. Doug Broxson encouraged people to vote—“let’s send Bill Nelson packing, let’s send Obama packing”—and further described Romney as “a fine man” and “an honorable man.”
By the time Miller hit the stage, the energy level was already dangerously high. If the crowd had known they still had Rubio, Mack and two video montages to go, the congressman might not have been able to bring the house down so easily.
“Listen, America deserves better,” Miller said, going on to say that Obama was dividing the nation, that Romney better understood military issues and that voters should elect someone who would “not leave a United States ambassador and three others.”
The reference to Benghazi brought a standing ovation and chants of “U.S.A.!”
Later, Rep. Connie Mack, (R-Fla.) asked voters for their support in his race against Sen. Bill Nelson, (D-Fla.). At his side—“asking you for a favor”—was Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.).
“I’m asking you to send Connie Mack to the U.S. Senate,” Rubio requested.
The senator was a big hit from the start. That’s why he got second billing.
“Boy, this is a lot of people,” Rubio told the crowd. “I’ve never seen so many people in one place for someone who couldn’t sing.”
“I don’t want to wake up to the bad news Wednesday that we almost did it,” Rubio said, rallying the vote. “We are ten days away from the most important election we have ever seen and we are going to win.”
The senator also told those in attendance that Romney campaign events throughout the country were seeing similarly fantastic enthusiasm.
“As big as this crowd is today, they’re just as big everywhere else in the country. People understand what we’re on the verge of,” he said, before introducing a video montage of other pumped up campaign events.
After that, Romney. He entered from the upper level of the facility, walking through the crowd. After a group hug with Rubio and Mack, the candidate eased onto the stump.
Opening with a vicarious joke—relaying Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) bit about how the senator thought the local “liquid-economy business would totally collapse” once he left the Pensacola area—Romney proceeded to go after Obama.
“He is shrinking from the magnitude of the times,” he said of the president.
The candidate talked about the federal budget—“no one voted for his budget”—and the military—“in fact, they do use bayonets”—and healthcare—“you’re likely to have the receptionist say, ‘sorry, we’re not taking any more Medicaid patients”—and, in short, laid out the election as being about “big things, big changes.”
Romney also detailed his five-point plan for the country. The plan focuses on energy, trade, education, loosening regulations on businesses and getting rid of “Obamacare.”
After describing what it was like to touch a flag that had survived the U.S. Challenger disaster—“it was as if electricity was running through my arm”—acknowledging the military personnel in attendance and telling locals they were a “city of heroes,” Romney waded into the crowd. It was on to the next stop of the campaign trail and, possibly, the presidency.
On one side of the facility, a large swath of the crowd was wearing red, white and blue t-shirts that read ‘clear eyes, full heats, America can’t lose.’ The shirts had been supplied by the campaign and, from a distance, the group looked like a flag.
Romney had explained that the slogan was a reference to the television show “Friday Night Lights,” about a high school football team. When exiting the locker room before each game, he told the crowd, players would slap a sign with a similar message. The candidate encouraged them to head to the polls, and into a Romney-presidency, with such “clear eyes” and “full hearts.”
“The president says he can’t change Washington from the inside,” Romney said near the end of his speech, “he can only change it from the outside—we’re going to give him that chance soon.”