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Scenes From a Paul Ryan Rally

Posted: 10/22/2012 4:02 pm

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(Photo by Marin Cogan)


By Marin Cogan, GQ

This story originally appeared on GQ.com: Scenes From a Paul Ryan Rally in Western Pennsylvania

David Wilson grew up in Butler, a steel and manufacturing town about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, but spent his career in Washington working for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. When he and his wife Rose, who worked at a court reporting firm, retired, they moved back to nearby Parker, a city of 20,000 at the height of the Pennsylvania oil boom that has since lost all but about a 1,000 residents. David describes himself as a conservative who never cared to get involved in politics until the Tea Party revolt of 2010. Rose spent most of her life as a Democrat. On Saturday the two drove an hour and a half southwest to see Paul Ryan speak at an airplane hangar in Moon Township, near the Pittsburgh airport. "People are realizing that Obama's a dictator who wants to take our rights away," says David, whose square-frames, flannel, and fluorescent orange undershirt make him look like every western Pennsylvanian's uncle. "Old Time Rock And Roll" kicks into the sound-system pumping through the spacious white hangar. "That's my favorite song," he says, pausing for a moment from politics. "Rose, my song is on! I dance to that and everybody else has to leave the floor." He allows himself a long, loud chuckle. "I take the whole dance floor when I dance to that one."

David and Rose are two of the hundreds who came out on a bleak day to the cracked concrete service park for this very impromptu campaign rally, to wave Romney-Ryan Terrible Towels and signs that say "Pennsylvania Believes" while their choice for the vice presidency gives a 30 minute stump speech.

They are rewarded when the gears of the hangar door grind open, slowly and noisily, and the nose of a Romney-Ryan campaign plane finally materializes. Ryan bounds down from the steps of the plane, its handrails fixed with red, white, and blue bunting, and takes the stage in a red North Face jacket. His message is perfectly calibrated for this region of the country: he talks of President Obama's "war on coal" and of opening the keystone pipeline and of energy independence. He speaks of the pride he'll feel next year when he takes his 10-year-old daughter to shoot "her first deer, knowing that we will have just elected Mitt Romney the next president of the United States."

The precocious school boy stiffness he first exhibited on the stump seems to have left him in the last two months, even if can't really match the energy the crowd is giving back (the campaign schedule this weekend has him in Florida Saturday morning, then Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Omaha, Nebraska Saturday, followed by Colorado Monday and Nevada Tuesday...). This crowd doesn't seem to mind. They've been asked, after all, to hold those "Pennsylvania Believes" signs and keep the faith that this swing state, leaning more and more towards Democrats on the national ticket in recent presidential cycles, can be won. Ryan's presence in Pennsylvania is a sign of the campaign's own growing optimism about the state (they've considered moving resources here in the last week as the polls have shown the race tightening). "I have very good reason to believe that in Pennsylvania the presidential race right now is tied," Senator Pat Toomey, a movement conservative elected in the 2010 Republican wave, tells the crowd.

"I think it was inevitable that this would converge in the last few weeks. Republicans dominated this state in 2010 and it was mostly a reaction against the failed policies of the Obama administration," Toomey tells me after the rally. "But it had only been two years. Now [Obama's] on the ballot. We're in a good position. I feel very strongly that he's going to win Pennsylvania ." He's on to something, of course: Pennsylvania went for Obama by 10 points in 2008, but in 2010 the Governor's residence, a senate seat, and five new House seats were won by Republicans. They swept the state legislature. The people gathered today are older, yes, and appear to be what Romney would call "middle-income Americans," but their reasons for supporting him are now as vast and varied as they are for any candidate representing one of the major political parties: they hate the size of the national debt, think Obama grew the government, dislike the war in Afghanistan, believe the president disdains small business, believe they were lied to about Libya, are afraid the government will take over their health care, don't think he tried hard enough to create jobs with the Republican Congress.

"I voted for Obama the last time and I'm not satisfied and I'm hoping for something better," says Polly Dierkes, a senior from the Pittsburgh suburb Bethel Park. "I expected him to get down to business and get jobs going... he didn't do what he said he would do. I just feel it's a complete lack of honesty with all of us about what he intended to do," she says. "I watched every debate and I just felt Romney was the only one who was where I wanted to be." Dierkes and her friend Pat Caine, from Mount Lebanon, are hopeful about Romney's chances, if not overly optimistic. "I think prayer is helping. I really, really do," Caine says. "I know people are thinking, 'I can't do anything else. So I'll pray.'"

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