Thousands cheer Romney at outdoor rally in Yardley

Inquirer Staff Writers

Mitt Romney urged supporters at a massive outdoor rally in Bucks County Sunday night to help him capture the White House, providing dramatic punctuation to the Republican's last-minute push to carry Pennsylvania.

A crowd estimated by the Secret Service at 25,000 people filled a field at Shady Brook Farm in Lower Makefield Township on a brisk night with temperatures in the low 40s. Several thousand additional people couldn't get past security barriers to see the event up close.

The flag-waving throng roared when Romney and his wife Ann took the stage to the theme from Rocky a little after 6:30 p.m.

Amid chants of "Send him home!" the GOP nominee listed what he called President Obama's failed promises to turn around the economy and end partisan divisions.

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"The same course we have been on will not lead to a better destination," Romney said. "The question of this election comes down to this: Do you want four more years like the last four years, or to you want real change?"

Romney, in a white shirt, red tie, and ski-jacket, was hoarse at times, but spoke urgently.

"This has gathered the strength of a movement, which is obvious by looking around this audience tonight," he told the crowd. "Your voices are being heard all over this country. They're in my heart."

He said he would introduce legislation immediately if elected to repeal "Obamacare" and to cut federal spending by 5 percent.

A Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll released Sunday found Obama leading 49 percent to 46 percent among likely voters in the state, with Romney's favorability rating in positive territory for the first time. A Pittsburgh Tribune-Review poll also out Sunday found a tied race, at 47 percent.

Still, strategists say it will be difficult for Romney to make up what polls show is an average deficit of 4 percentage points, given the Democrats' 1.1 million advantage in voter registration in Pennsylvania. Republicans will have to hope that Obama gets a disappointing turnout in Philadelphia, and that Romney can come out even in the city's suburban counties, which have trended Democratic during the past decade or so.

Romney would be the first Republican to carry Pennsylvania since 1988 if he wins Tuesday. With the polls tightening, he and allied Republican super-PACs have invested $12 million in the last week to run ads throughout the state.

Obama's campaign, seeking to defend a state where the president has led in polls for the entire campaign, countered with $2.9 million in ads.

Romney's attempt at Pennsylvania is a "desperate ploy," White House senior adviser David Plouffe said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "I mean, to win Pennsylvania, Gov. Romney would have to win two-thirds of the independents. He's not going to do that anywhere, much less Pennsylvania."

Rich Beeson, Romney's political director, said on Fox News that Pennsylvania was "very fertile ground for us."

Before the Bucks rally, cars backed up for miles along I-95 as Romney backers flowed to the event. Many parked in nearby office parks and walked through fields to join the long, snaking lines into the event.

A pickup flew two of the "Don't Tread on Me" flags favored by the tea party, plus a U.S. flag and an Israeli flag. Signs covered the vehicle from bumper to bumper, endorsing Republicans from Romney on down to Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith, GOP attorney general candidate David Freed, and U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.

Buttons in the red and yellow of the old Soviet Union flag read: "Obamacare," with the "O" in the shape of the Communist hammer and sickle; they sold for $1 apiece.

Nancy Jacob, who lived in Massachusetts when Romney was governor there, said she saw him lower taxes and cut the state deficit.

"I want a president that will fight for America, not a coward who goes on an apology tour," said Jacob, now a Yardley resident.

Waiting in line three hours before the event was scheduled to begin, Harry Magazu posed for photos with his three sisters. Three of the siblings described themselves as business people who felt besieged by the Obama administration. They were trying to persuade their last sister, a teacher, to join them in voting for Romney.

"The economic environment is just so difficult with the regulations and taxes," said Magazu, a Clarksboro, N.J., resident and partner in an engineering firm. "It doesn't matter that our parents are Democrats."

He said Obama's health-care law would raise costs of hiring so much that he plans to send work to China.

His sister Maria Dempsey, owner of Accent Limousine & Executive Transportation in Wilmington, echoed her brother's worries about the economy. She added that as a Catholic she was angered by Democrats' focus on birth control, abortion, and "alternative lifestyles."

Democrats, seeking to draw some attention of their own Sunday in Bucks County, held a counter-rally not far away earlier in the day.

It featured Planned Parenthood leader Cecile Richards, Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County, and Bucks congressional candidate Kathy Boockvar.

Schwartz said that Obama would defend Planned Parenthood and equal pay for women.

"Mitt Romney can't even find women unless someone hands him a binder," she said.

Besides the speakers, only about a dozen people attended the event in a small conference room in a Courtyard hotel.

Obama's advantage among women voters has helped him in state and national polls. Romney has closed that gap somewhat in recent weeks, and the Democrats have been emphasizing the GOP ticket's opposition to a federal law mandating equal pay for women, as well as reproductive rights.

Romney "doesn't only want to take us back four years, he actually wants to take us back 40 years," Richards said.

She said Romney would sign a bill to overturn Roe v. Wade, would allow employers to refuse to provide birth control to their workers, and would gut Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions but also health care and cancer screenings.

"Mitt Romney will say absolutely anything to get women's votes but we aren't buying it," Richards said.

Visits by Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, who stumped in Harrisburg on Saturday, have added a dose of last-minute intrigue to the campaign for Pennsylvania, but Schwartz expressed confidence that Obama would hold the state.

Still, she said, "we always welcome tourists. It's a nice time to visit."

 


Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com or follow @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent.

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