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High Point for Romney and Ryan

by Brian Clarey

The kids are hating it.Just two days into the campaign, which began in earnest the day before when Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket, Ryan’s kids and Romney’s grandkids — all at around 10 years old, all on stage behind the candidates — have the same dazed look that every kid gets after surviving a prolonged road trip: flushed cheeks, faces melting into forlorn expressions, deep slouches into the red, white and blue upholstered chairs made special by American Styles just for this occasion.If they are impressed by the chanting crowds, they do not show it.It’s a big day here in High Point — the first presidential campaign stop in this city since Ross Perot came through on his ornery train tour in 1992.Thousands line the street in this sleepy industrial district slated for revitalization — it’s difficult to get an accurate count because the throng winds across the street, down the block and around the corner from the site, Absolute Styles Furniture on West Green Drive. About 1,500 or so make it into the factory, which has been transformed for the day into a public hall. Another 2,000 get seated in the overflow space, where the speech will be broadcast on big screens. The rest of the untold thousands are left to wait outside and maybe catch a glimpse of Romney and Ryan as they enter the building.These are the largest crowds of the campaign so far, a cast of senior citizens, young families, twentysomething couples in starched shirts and Sunday skirts, working stiffs looking to get some inspiration before punching in on Monday morning. Most of them are white, though there is at least one African-American couple in attendance, and a crew sporting “Latinas for Romney/Ryan 2012” signs.For Triad Repubicans, the lineup today is something of a Dream Team. Rep. Howard Coble is here, and Rep. Virginia Foxx. Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes mans the workstation for the traveling press. Candidate for lieutenant governor Dan Forest makes a foreboding prediction from the podium: that if we fail to vote Republican this year we could “tip over into socialism or something worse.”Before the candidates take the stage, gubernatorial hopeful Pat McCrory makes his stump speech, looking like he just breezed in from the country club bar. US Sen. Richard Burr is here too, looking clenched and intense.The undercard candidates and elected officials stay on point.Foxx, who seems to have a grandma-crush on Ryan, says, “This is the most important election of our lifetimes,” which is saying something because she’s been alive since FDR was in office.Coble reiterates that the state went blue in 2008 for the first time since the 1970s. “It is my firm belief and my firm hope that we will not duplicate that mistake.”Forest says we need to “take American back,” and that we can accomplish this in NC by eliminating the corporate income tax, reducing the gas tax and reducing the state’s personal income tax “if not eliminating it altogether.”McCrory says, “It’s the private sector that’s gonna get us out of this.”And Burr implores everyone to take the message viral: “Make me a promise right now: You’re gonna go to your computer, iPad, iPhone, e-mail… send a picture from this event to everyone. Ask them to go to their computers and e-mail the same thing.”McCrory starts the “USA” chant, which quickly fades, drowned out by the “Life is a Highway” song.The murmurs crescendo when Romney and Ryan enter the building, and rise to a roar as they make their way to the stage, flanked by their blond wives and the cadre of children. Romney, shiny and squared away, looks like he’s just been polished. As he stands there looking like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands, Ryan mans the microphone, and it becomes clear why Romney chose him as his running mate instead of Sen. Marco Rubio, who would have helped with Florida, or Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is too mired in women’s reproductive rights, or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who lobbed dozens of rhetorical grenades at the candidate during primary season.Ryan tacks further to the right than Romney on economic issues. His budget plan drastically reworks government programs, halving spending in relation to the GDP, replacing Medicare with a voucher system by 2022, lowering taxes and eliminating many deductions, and ending corporate taxes on overseas profits.But in the public eye he is everything Romney is not: affable, easy, comfortable. He looks like a husband who just dropped the kids off at soccer practice, which is more or less what he is. And he knows how to hit the applause lines.“If you have a small business, you did build that business!”Romney’s presentation is boilerplate: a few stats about the economy, his vague but emphatic five-point plan for the country, the same joke about the honor-roll kid and the bus driver he made last week in Illinois.And the capacity crowd, not looking for specifics in their quest to unseat Barack Obama, eats it up.Romney knows he will need every single one of these votes if he plans on capturing North Carolina — Obama won it in 2008 by just 14,000 votes, and we are very definitely in play.And it’s a certainty that the Romney/Ryan show will be playing the Triad again in the coming months. Sheriff Barnes says his office has been informed of at least 36 more visits from presidential campaigns between now and Election Day on Nov. 6.Romney and Ryan struck the first blow in this last leg of the campaign season, causing a stir in High Point that people will be talking about for years.But the question remains: Is the fervor of the faithful enough to take North Carolina?As always, it depends on who shows up. And Romney and Ryan proved today in High Point that they can certainly draw a crowd.

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