Romney rouses the faithful and the curious in Salem
SALEM – Nine-year-old Brendan Bell was excited about meeting Gov. Mitt Romney.
“It was pretty cool. I got to shake the hand most likely of the next president of the United States,” he said, as he and brother Aidan, 7, were leaving Republican Presidential Candidate Romney’s rally in Salem.
The boys came from Botetourt County with their dad, Matt, to the June 26 gathering at Carter Machinery that attracted more than 1,000 supporters and a few who just wanted to be there to see what the former governor of Massachusetts had to say.
“Brendan and Aidan have watched some of the debates with me and my wife, Julie, over the summer,” explained their father. “I wanted to expose them to some more of the process.”
Against a backdrop of a battlefield-size American flag suspended from two pieces of Carter machinery and about 75 gray-uniformed Carter employees holding signs saying “Romney 4 President,” “Believe in America” and “Count on Coal,” the candidate roused the crowd of mostly middle-age and older people.
Although Republican faithful who got robo-call invitations or email ones came to show their support in a corralled area outside behind the company’s reconditioning shop, others were there out of curiosity.
“I came to see how it all works,” said Robin Scott of Roanoke, who was there with friend Gip Brown of Salem. He came in support of 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith of Salem who only five days before asked Carter Machinery about hosting the gathering, according to Carter Marketing Director Sam Hampton.
It was coal that brought Romney to Carter Machinery, with the help of Griffith. “We have a very tight connection with the coal industry,” explained Hampton, who lives in Cave Spring. “Our equipment is at the center of making sure coal gets moved in and out of that area. Gov. Romney is going to be talking about energy and small business,” Hampton added. “We were the perfect match for this campaign stop.”
He credited the more-than 300 Carter employees with making the day. “They’ve bent over backwards,” said Hampton, who explained the company had shut down operations for the day. It’s certainly worth it to be able to host the opportunity for Gov. Romney.”
Carter CEO Jim Parker introduced Romney, calling him “Clearly a problem solver…Our country needs change and needs it now.”
Most of the people in the crowd were from somewhere other than Salem, including coalfield resident Ken Ratcliffe from Jewel Ridge in deep southwest Virginia.
“I came to make sure Romney’s going to help us out in the coalfields,” said Ratcliffe, who worked in coal for more than 30 years. “He looks like he’s going to give our jobs back to us.”
Romney capitalized on statements he uses in campaign commercials about business experience, tax cuts when he was governor of Massachusetts, getting rousing “No” when he asked if the crowd thought President Obama had gotten Americans back to work and similar questions.
He promised to take advantage of “energy that comes from above the ground and below the ground, and to get energy independent.” The crowd cheered, with a few chants of “Drill, Baby, Drill” reminiscent of October 2008 when Republican vice presidential candidate Sara Palin drew about 18,000 people to Salem Stadium for a rally.
Salem Trustpoint Insurance agency owner Charlie Logan was one of those impressed by Romney’s remarks. “I think he’s very impressive. I’m voting for him,” he said.
Mark Mitchell of M & P Printing and Business Services was at the Romney rally because he is a small business owner looking for an improved economy. “This is the fifth year and it’s not getting any better,” Mitchell said.
Tom Leneave of Salem wet down the ticket he printed off the Internet and plastered it on his bald head to keep off some of the sun. He’s a member of the same church as Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons.
“I’ve seen about 30 members out here. We’re all rooting for him,” said Leneave, who is 77 and who added this is his first year as a Republican. “I’ve been the lone Democrat in my family. He and his wife, Toni, have five children, 21 great grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren, he said, “and they are all Republicans.”
After his 25-minute talk, Romney worked the crowd closest to him for about 10 minutes, reaching across people to pat babies and little children. Seven Secret Service agents flanked him, constantly scanning the crowd for any suspicious movement.
“I leaned over the fence and said, ‘I’m going to vote for you,’ ” said Salem resident Bill Wallace, “and he perked up and said ‘Thank you.’ ” Wallace and friend Bill Rhodes of Cave Spring both were able to shake Romney’s hand, they said.
“I believe he’s the man,” Wallace added. “He’s got the experience for business. I believe he can get the job done.”
Rhodes added, “I’m pleased to see him in Virginia this early. He needs to campaign harder.”
Cave Spring-area resident Bonnie Johnson and friends made the long walk from the Salem Civic Center parking lot. “I’m for Romney. I came to show support and give encouragement in the long struggle,” said Johnson, who recalled seeing President John F. Kennedy when she was a little girl, and Ronald Reagan at the Roanoke airport when she was a teenager.
Gary Summers who lives in the Vinton area confessed he came “partly for curiosity, and partly support.” Sister Jenny Clinebell who is definitely a Romney supporter and a Republican volunteer, pointed out her small enamel Republican lapel pin.
Gates opened at 10 a.m. Lines of people were beginning to back up by 9:45 a.m. as people waited for their security check. Virginia State Police Trooper Travis Flight of Montgomery County and Virginia Tech Officer Larry Wooddell used wand scanners on media. K-9 Officer Jeff Lovell of Henry County and Roxie worked one side and Trooper Dave Gott, out of the Salem-Roanoke County area, directed “Recon,” a 4-1/2-year-old Belgian Malinois, to sniff media cameras, microphones and purses for bombs or other possible danger.
At least a dozen Salem Police officers assisted with crowd control and helping to keep the candidate and other people safe.
Not everybody was there to support the Republicans. Deborah Semones of Salem and Ann Duncan of Bedford stationed themselves in the parking lot with an abbreviated message poster: “Mitt Romny was 47 out of 50 in job creation for Massachutts.”" We wanted to let people know there are supporters of Obama in this area,” said Semones.