Fans cheer for Romney with Obama on their minds


Delegates were fixated on Barack Obama rather than on their own ‘family man’ Mitt Romney, writes LARA MARLOWEat the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida

THE REPUBLICAN convention that ended last night resembled a giant carnival where thousands of delegates, alternates and party supporters milled around, listening to speeches and trading stories of the iniquities of the Obama administration.

The Republicans were animated by scorn for Barack Obama, whose out-of-control spending is, they say, calculated to foster dependency on the government. They blame him for the 8.2 per cent unemployment rate in the United States, and the Affordable Care Act, which they see as a “government takeover” of healthcare. The glorious moment when Barack and Michelle at last step into that helicopter on the White House lawn was an oft-described fantasy.

The fixation was with Obama, not their own candidate. Delegates rarely spoke of Mitt Romney unprompted, as if the candidate’s blandness had stifled their imagination. Two observations recurred in some dozen interviews on the convention floor: Mitt Romney was a good family man, and with his business experience, he’d fix the economy. No one saw him as the Messiah.

Jim Thienel (65) chairs the Oakland County, Michigan, Republican Party. Thienel was more excited than most, telling me that on a scale of one to 10, his enthusiasm for Romney’s candidacy was 11.

“We have a choice between socialism or freedom,” he said. “Socialism has failed everywhere in the world. Barack Obama never signed a paycheck in his life. Mitt Romney has run corporations.”

Yet even the Michigan delegation seemed removed from Mitt. Thienel’s appliance repair business is located in Bloomfield Hills, the affluent town where Romney grew up. He used to service the late Lenore Romney’s (Mitt’s mother’s), two refrigerators and stacked washer-dryer.

“She was the most gracious lady I ever met,” he said. “Mitt

left at an early age. We consider him to be a hometown guy because of his father.” (George Romney was the chief executive of American Motors, governor of Michigan and a failed presidential candidate.)

Thienel sees the Republican party as a guarantor of family values, while Democrats are synonymous with poverty and crime. The 10 poorest cities in the States are governed by Democrats, he tells me. “They have the highest crime, because of long-term Democratic control and no moral values.”

Roger Simon (69) is a conservative novelist, screen writer and colourful character who lives in the Hollywood home that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. He wore a purple jacket, striped shirt and panama hat while recording a video of the convention for his PJ Media website.

Asked about his level of enthusiasm for Romney, Simon replies: “I have a tremendous un-enthusiasm level for Barack Obama. I would vote for anyone before Obama. Romney’s as good as anybody else.”

“Don’t Believe the Liberal Media” says a huge billboard in downtown Tampa.

The same message is found on bumper stickers and posters across the country. But Simon expresses himself more forcefully. “The mainstream media are a bunch of vicious, lying motherf**kers,” he says. “They elected Obama. Today they’re embarrassed that he failed.”

Simon calls the Republican party “pretty divided” over social issues, on which he counts himself a libertarian. Abortion and other social issues are, he says, “a phoney baloney attempt to distract attention. I say, keep the government out of the bedroom. Gay marriage is the easiest issue in the world; let people marry whomever they want to.”

Marvin Kleeb (55), a delegate for Kansas, is a state representative who has owned a staffing and employment service since 1984. Allied Staffing places 1,500 people daily, so Kleeb is on the frontline of the jobs crisis. “This has been the worst economic recovery possible,” he says. “I see companies afraid to make investment decisions. They don’t know what will happen next.”

Republicans give few concrete examples of the government intervention they complain of. Kleeb cites the National Labour Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency as two prime meddlers.

“All these agencies are run by the executive branch or Obama, and you add in Obamacare, which is a tax, and other tax uncertainties . . .

“Everybody is just trying to get by. They don’t feel like making investments that would bring in more jobs.”

Kleeb provides health insurance for 52 permanent employees. His insurance carriers have told him the mandates prescribed by the healthcare law will raise the rates 25 per cent, though he has heard rumours it could be as high as 40. He says he knows companies that will fire employees to keep their workforce under 50 – the number beyond which they’ll be legally required to provide insurance.

Beverly Gossage (62) is a health insurance agent and a delegate from Kansas. “There is a difference between healthcare and health insurance,” she stresses. “The latter is a product.” People who cannot afford insurance can obtain healthcare for next to nothing at community centres or through Medicaid, Gossage insists.

“We say it should be my right to decide if I want health insurance.” Obamacare, as the Affordable Care Act is widely known, is “the most important reason for voting for Mitt Romney,” Gossage adds. “Another reason is because our government is way too big. Government was never meant to be benevolent.

“They’re just meant to make sure we have troops to protect us.”

Byron Alvarez (34) is an alternate delegate for Georgia. The Guatemalan-born aviation electrician emigrated to the US nine years ago, after marrying an American women he met while working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

Alvarez’s wife, Heather, is a Republican, but “until Obama failed to fix the economy, and the company where I worked started to fail, I was never interested in politics”.

The construction company where Alvarez worked as a project manager went bankrupt. His salary dropped by more than a quarter, and his wife had to start working. He came to the US legally and feels no sympathy for illegal Hispanics – the issue that ensures some two-thirds of Latinos will vote for Obama, not Romney.

“My American dream was taken away by Obama,” Alvarez says. “I feel Mitt Romney will bring it back.”

Romney has promised to create 12 million jobs. Alvarez hoped the Republican candidate would “give us just a glimpse of what their plan is” in his speech last night.