Fairfax, Virginia—Mitt Romney had a busy day on Monday. He started with an event in Florida, flew up to Virginia for several campaign stops around the state, then out to Ohio and up to New Hampshire to finish off the evening with a campaign rally featuring a performance by Kid Rock. At least he had some enthusiastic crowds to keep his energy high. Romney’s final Virginia campaign stop was held in George Mason University’s basketball arena in this far suburb of Washington, DC. The venue, according a Romney campaign official, took in 7,000 boisterous Romney supporters, while an estimated 10,000 more were left out in the cold. Many of them stayed outside to listen to Romney’s speech over loudspeakers, and to create a horrific traffic jam for journalists departing in cabs with rapidly rising meters.
Romney’s campaign strategy—which has managed to make a deeply uncharismatic candidate roughly tied with President Obama in the national polls on eve of Election Day—was perfectly encapsulated in this event and its crowd. It brought together the angry Republican base, with red meat subtly fed to them by surrogates, while Romney played the aspiring healer-in-chief to reach out to the proverbial soccer moms.
Among the cars on the way out was a pick-up truck with a handmade sign that read, “I vote USA born person 4 president. Nobama.” For such a nativist, the author’s command of English leaves much to be desired. The car in front of that truck had a sign in the window urging passersby, with relative subtlety, to “Vote for America.”
The speakers inside did not sink to quite that level of nationalism. But appeals to white Christian chauvinism were not entirely absent either. Governor Bob McDonnell described Romney as “a man of faith… he believes in God.” Why this is a relevant qualification—or how it distinguishes him from Obama—was not explained. But for many in the audience it presumably does not need to be. McDonnell also claimed that Romney “has lived the American dream.” Only in America could the son of a business executive and governor become a business executive and governor. That’s living the American dream, whereas, say, the half-black son of a single mother becoming president is some dystopian nightmare. McDonnell was preceded on stage by Republican senatorial candidate George Allen. Allen, who long harbored affection for the Confederacy, narrowly lost his last race after he called an Indian-American Democratic operative “Macaca.” He looks likely to lose narrowly lose again on Tuesday.
Before Allen, the crowd heard from a string of Republican congressional candidates. Their pitch suggested that voting Republican is as important to American security and greatness as flying a fighter jet in Afghanistan. “We want our country back, because we built it,” said Patrick Murray, the Republican candidate in Virginia’s 8th District. Chris Perkins, the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 11th district framed his entire pitch around his status as a retired Army colonel. “Good afternoon freedom fighters,” he began, to the crowd’s delight, as if going to a Romney rally were the equivalent of facing down Hosni Mubarak’s thugs in Tahrir Square. And, by implication, that would make President Obama a freedom-quashing autocrat. To all the veterans in the audience, he said, “I’m putting you on active duty for one more day.” The veterans loved it. But how would a veteran who does not vote Republican feel about being told that electing Mitt Romney is the same as going to war to defend the United States? Wouldn’t that mean those who vote Democratic are attacking the country?