Coming off a post-debate buzz in popularity, Mitt Romney spoke to thousands of supporters Friday night outside of the St. Petersburg Pier.
Turnout for the event seemed to be much higher than planned, as the line for entry stretched far past the St. Petersburg History Museum as the Romney faithful waited at least a half an hour to gain entrance.
However, not all present were there to support the Romney campaign. About ten protesters set up outside of the entrance, featuring the usual signs calling the former Massachusetts governor a liar as well as a (somewhat disturbing) hospital bed with a skeleton occupant citing Romney and Congressman Bill Young’s healthcare stances as death.
The protesters poked fun at those present via megaphone, though most of the people there for the candidate shrugged it off or threw some jokes back.
Most notably present at the counter rally were two men dressed as Big Bird, in response to Romney’s statement during this week's debate calling to cut funding for PBS, the network home for Sesame Street for over four decades. One of those Big Birds staged a fight against the giant papier-mâché Romney that’s been ever-present at protests for Republican campaign events since the convention. The bird was ultimately defeated, as those in protest narrated it as a sort of political boxing match.
Daniel Heyman, 23, was present as a counter-voice to the event. Heyman has been involved with the Florida Consumer Action Network in the past and is a student at Stetson Law. He feels that the primary issue of this election is the economy and that Romney’s economic platform isn't feasible.
“It was important for me to come out today because I watched the debates on Wednesday, and saw Mitt Romney tell a number of lies or half-truths, however you want to label them…that personally angered me. I know we’re not going to change any minds here but I just wanted to get my voice heard.”
The event also featured a variety of speakers beforehand, mostly Bay-area Republican politicians and candidates there to generate support for their upcoming elections.
There was a decidedly Pinellas County-based focus in terms of speakers, including former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker and Congressmen Gus Bilirakis and C.W. Bill Young.
The most surprising figure out of those who addressed the crowd was former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, a Democrat, who helped lead the introduction for Governor Romney. The mayor was welcomed surprisingly warmly by the crowd, though some booed when he mentioned the party he was registered with.
Greco focused mainly on what he felt were the broken promises of the current presidential administration and the rising federal deficit as well as praising the character of the Republican presidential candidate.
“You are looking at someone’s resume to run this country, and it has to be Mitt Romney. Mitt and his family personify the American dream. Mitt Romney doesn’t need this job in any way or form, he can do whatever he wants, because God has been good to him and this country has been good to him. He’s doing this, which is (as) a sacrifice, because he wants to, he believes in America.”
Mitt and Ann Romney both addressed the crowd, with Ann giving a broad introduction of her husband praising his moral character as well as his economic experience. There was a definite buzz over the last debate, which many see Romney as having won, and Mitt brought it up frequently.
Former PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer has been seen by many in the political world has having bungled his job as debate moderator, but Mitt made a point to praise the veteran newsman.
“I’m with Ann. I enjoyed that debate a couple of nights ago. I think that Jim Lehrer did an excellent job at raising issues and having the candidates talk about our views on issues, rather than the kind of 'gotcha' thing that sometimes happens in media interviews.”
Romney’s speech covered his usual topics, including his frequently touted five-point economic plan, all while laying into the current administration and referencing the debate in Denver.
“I asked him, for instance, why with 23 million Americans that were looking for work and wanted a president that would focus on getting the economy going, he instead spent his first two years fighting for Obamacare?”
Mitt said his campaign offers a different choice for the future of the country, bringing up a recent statement by Vice President Joe Biden where he called for raising taxes on higher-income individuals.
Perhaps in response to the recent jobs report citing a dip in unemployment, Romney brought up frequently that the current administration hasn’t done enough to improve things rather than his more apocalyptic tone on the issue earlier in the campaign. The candidate had a tone of “too little, too late” and that his was a viable alternative that would lead to an economically successful United States.
“People in this country are having a hard time finding a job, people in this country are having a hard time making ends meet even if they do have a job. It’s time to have someone who’s elected president who actually has a plan, and I do, who will create 12 million jobs and rising incomes. That’s the kind of future we need to have for America.”