WEST CHESTER, Ohio – The GOP ticket’s final weekend kickoff rally was the largest of Mitt Romney’s career. An office park in this ultra-conservative suburb, located only 10 minutes from John Boehner’s house, had a big green patch where an ampitheatre and some housing would soon be built. The campaign filled that patch with security gates, two stages, bleachers, and food tents. At least 18,000 people showed up, some from far outside of Ohio. (I talked to one woman who’d driven four hours from Kentucky.) Kid Rock started up at 6 p.m. for the early-goers, playing seven full songs, stopping midway through to ask attendees to shake each others’ hands. “The whole thing really makes me proud of America,” one 50-year old steel plant manager told me.
When the speakers finally started, the patriotism evolved into righteous anger. Speaker after speaker condemned Barack Obama for the killing of four Americans in Benghazi. Rudy Giuliani kicked that off, speculating that if someone like Mitt Romney had been president, “maybe something like what happened in Libya could be avoided!”
“Maybe if he had a president who was paying attention, we wouldn’t have all this investigation about Libya!” said Giuliani, hunching and pointing emotively as he spoke. “You know what happened was a result of, at least incompetence. You think if we’d elected John McCain as president, those people wouldn’t have had the full resources of the United States of America trying to save them?”
I happened to be in a part of the crowd thick with veterans (they’d been asked to raise their hands), and the cheers were deafening. They were louder when the aforementioned McCain arrived, and spent most of his time talking Benghazi.
“I’m hearing from veterans all over this country,” he said, “because they’re sick and tired of a commander in chief that doesn’t lead, and has allowed a debacle such as Benghazi happened, where four Americans lost their lives, and they didn’t need to! My friends, at the beginning, during, and ending of that terrible period in Benghazi, the United States president was A-W-O-L.” He spelled out the acronym for effect.
“He hid!” yelled a tall vet in a leather Ohio State jacket.
The surrogate parade went on for an hour. When the candidate arrived, he didn’t mention Benghazi at all.