This weekend Pasco County was thrust into the political spotlight when Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made an official campaign stop in Land O’ Lakes for a “Victory Rally.”
There, he addressed a large crowd of energized GOP voters who gathered to welcome and push their candidate to a victory on November 6th.
While somewhat chaotic, there’s no doubt that the Romney Rally will be one of those moments in time that will be reflected in our local history for generations to come.
So, what did the average spectator endure and how well did the candidate do?
The gates were scheduled to open at 5pm, although driving southbound along U.S. 41 it was clear to see that the crowd started showing up hours before Romney was scheduled to take the stage at 7pm.
By about 4:50, southbound traffic had already backed up about a two miles from the event being held at Land O’ Lakes High School.
After about 30 minutes of creeping along the highway, I finally arrived at the school’s entrance where a sheriff’s deputy stopped the car in front of me—I could over hear him telling the driver, “The parking lots are full.”
After being motioned past the event venue the options for parking were limited, and within minutes the shoulder of the highway became the ideal spot—a logistics nightmare for the sheriff’s department but easy access and exiting for the diverted spectators.
So, I locked up my car, left it on the roadside, and hoofed it to the main gates about a mile away.
I soon realized everyone waiting to get into the designated parking areas was still sitting there waiting, and I was actually walking past them to the main gate where I zipped right through the security check.
I finally made it inside and on the field by about 5:40—not bad considering I had been stuck in traffic 40 minutes earlier.
I found a good spot about 40 feet in front of the podium and hunkered down till the event official kicked off and I’ll have to admit it seemed like eternity.
Sometime around 6:50, State Representative Will Weatherford and several officials took to the stage to formally welcome and warm-up the crowd of about 15,000.
This part of the event concluded by 7:15 as the crowd anticipated the arrival of Senator Marco Rubio who was scheduled to introduce Mitt Romney.
However, rumors soon circulated on the field that Rubio’s daughter was in an automobile accident and as a result the motorcade was delayed as the Senator was called away.
For the next 55 minutes spectators waited patiently texting, taking pictures, posting to Facebook, listening to music, and watching motivational campaign videos on the big screen.
One interesting thing to note here, by about 8:00pm, 10 minutes before Romney took the stage, cell phone service and reception seemed to be blocked—no more texting, posting to Facebook, or making phone calls.
The several people I had witnessed moments earlier texting away no longer had a signal and a quick check of my phone revealed the same—no messages in and an no messages out.
Around 8:10 pm, the music stopped abruptly and a loud voice echoed through the stands, “Ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome the next President of the United States, Mitt Romney.”
The crowd erupted into cheers as the man of the hour came walking onto the stage, perhaps a surreal experience for most.
Romney graciously welcomed the crowd and gave a shout out to the Land O’ Lakes fighting Gators before offering a new campaign chant.
He said, “Obama supporters chant four more years.” As the crowd of GOP supporters booed he added, “Our chant otta be 10 more days,” although he later joked that tomorrow we’ll have to change it.
Then it was time to get down to business and address the issues. He first spoke to seniors saying, if “Paul Ryan and I are elected; we’re going to restore those dollars to Medicare and honor the promises made to our seniors.”
He then spoke to the college students in the crowd saying, “Well when you graduate from college there will be a big difference if I’m elected as opposed to the President being elected, because if I’m elected when you graduate you’ll be able to get a job.”
During his speech Romney also highlighted the five key steps to the Romney-Ryan Plan, which are:
1) Take full advantage of coal and oil energy sources.
2) Open more trade, particularly to Latin America.
3) Fix schools and reform our education system
4) Get us to a balanced budget
5) Champion small business and help it grow and thrive.
On the last point, Romney added that we are at a “30 year low in new business start up under Obama policies” and noted “It’s the American way to live for something bigger.”
As he got the crowd fired up I think it was clear to see that Romney is growing much more comfortable with life on the campaign trail.
Before ending, he offered several inspirational and personal stories from the campaign trail and what seemed like a blink of the eye it was all over.
After about 25 minutes the speech concluded with his “get out the vote” message, telling the energetic crowd how important Florida is to his chances of winning this election.
"(If) we win Florida," Romney said. "We're going on to win the White House."
As Romney left the stage you could tell the crowd harbored a new passion to push their candidate forward to a White House victory.
All-in-all, event coordinators and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office should be commended for their coordinated efforts in pulling off what some are now calling one of biggest and best Romney rallies this election season.
And, having attended the 1996 Vice-Presidential Debates in St. Petersburg, several local debates, candidate forums, and political rallies, in my opinion this was one of the most motivational political speeches I heard yet.
Here’s to eight more days before the end of another spectacular election cycle.