A child is held over the crowd moments before Mitt Romney speaks at the Wings… (Jewel Samad / Getty Images )
DENVER, Colo. – At a roaring rally inside a Denver airplane museum Monday night, Mitt Romney previewed the argument that he will make in his first debate with President Obama on Wednesday — urging supporters to convince undecided voters that “We can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”
Romney spoke under hot lights in a cavernous airplane hangar as supporters banged white and blue thunder sticks behind him on a tiered riser emblazoned with the word “JOBS” in huge blue and white letters.
Introduced by two-time Superbowl champion quarterback John Elway of the hometown Broncos, Romney recalled childhood trips to Colorado with his parents. And, as he did in New Hampshire before the state’s January primary, he mentioned a favorite childhood book, “Men to Match My Mountains.”
“Perhaps we should change the title to ‘Men and Women to Match My Mountains,’ because right here, men and women have matched the mountains in Colorado, and they’ve matched the mountains in aircraft like that,” he said, gesturing to the fighter jets lining the hangar. He noted that he was speaking from the state that is the home of the Air Force Academy, NORAD and the conservative group Focus on the Family, which he said is “committed to preserving the foundation of America.”
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“This is the home to great institutions of higher learning. It is also home to a pretty darn good football team,” he continued to cheers. “And one more thing. I think this is going to be the home of the place that elects the next president of the United States.”
Romney said he was looking forward to the three presidential debates — the first at the University of Denver — and told supporters to tune out people who are focused on “who is going to score the punches.”
“There’s going to be all the scoring of winning and losing,” he told the crowd. “In my view, it’s not so much winning and losing or even the people themselves, the president and myself. It’s about something bigger than that.… These debates are an opportunity for each of us to describe the pathway forward for America that we would choose.”
Counting all three debates, Romney said, that “conversation with the American people” will span almost an entire month. “We’ll get to describe our respective views, and I believe the people of Colorado will choose a better way forward for our country. We can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”
Romney has spent several months preparing for his debates with Obama. During the Democratic National Convention, he spent several days in Vermont doing mock debate sessions with Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who also served as the stand-in for Obama back in 2008 during debate sessions with Republican nominee John McCain.
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During his four-hour flight from Massachusetts to Denver on Monday, Romney sat across from Portman on the plane and also huddled with top aides: senior advisors Beth Myers, Peter Flaherty and Ed Gillespie, as well as chief strategist Stuart Stevens and longtime friend and business colleague Bob White.
Romney’s standing has slipped recently in a series of swing state polls, putting more pressure on him to excel during the first debate. He told reporters Friday that the debates were important, but he said he hoped Americans would look beyond “the theatrics” and the “one-liners.”
“I think that, despite all of the interest in those types of matters, that the American people will listen carefully to the conversation that’s held over three debates and the fourth, with the vice presidential debate, and they’ll decide who can help their family, who will be able to get our economy going,” he said.
“They’ll make their decision based on what they believe is in the best interest of the country and their own family,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “And I expect to be able to describe that in a way people will understand, and if they do, I’ll get elected.”