For what seemed to be an instant, Indiana, PA was at one degree of separation.
An eager crowd, a big luxury bus and the third of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s five sons made the town a slightly bigger dot on the national campaign trail for just about an hour’s time Thursday afternoon.
Josh Romney was the closest blood connection to a November candidate that had visited the town in half a century.
With just 47 days until the election, Romney was talking about criss-crossing the country and engaging the voters with his father’s message.
He campaigned in Rochester and Butler before Indiana, and said he planned to finish the day in Allegheny County.
“We want to hit all parts of Pennsylvania,” he said. “We’ll make sure we see as many people as we can. We’re going to fight hard to win Pennsylvania.”
The Romney entourage pulled into the parking lot of the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex at Indiana University of Pennsylvania at 5:16 p.m. and was met by a mix of people waving campaign posters, almost equal numbers for President Barack Obama and for Mitt Romney.
A local GOP leader later referred to the Democratic supporters as protesters, but there were no serious confrontations among the crowd, and no interruptions of the program.
County Auditor Donna Cupp led in singing the national anthem and other patriotic songs while the crowd waited for Romney’s bus. Many Obama supporters sang along with her.
An IUP campus safety official guessed that 150 people attended, and a local Republican worker estimated 175 to 200 people had turned out.
At the microphone, Republican national committeewoman Christine Toretti introduced Josh Romney and turned the podium over to him at 5:20 p.m.
Romney spent seven minutes talking about his dad’s campaign, then 16 minutes mingling with supporters, shaking hands and posing for photos.
It was the most presidential campaign excitement in Indiana since 2008, when Republican Ron Paul brought his own campaign, and former President William Clinton drummed up support for his wife, Democrat Hillary Clinton, in the primary campaigns. But Indiana has yet to host a Republican presidential candidate and hasn’t welcomed a Democratic candidate since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Off to the side of the throng gathered around Josh Romney, some college-age Obama supporters started an impromptu chant: “L-G-B-T, L-G-B-T, L-G-B-T!”
A group of Romney backers chanted back: “M-I-T-T, M-I-T-T, M-I-T-T!”
Romney worked the crowd in personal way, not treating it like a receiving line but answering questions and having conversations with anyone who approached him.
At 5:43, he left the crowd to meet with reporters in his campaign bus.
“They said they’re praying for me and my parents,” Romney said afterward. “We really appreciate that.”
In his speech, he talked about how his family convinced his father to run for president this year, after losing to John McCain in the 2008 race. Mitt Romney, he said, could solve the national debt and high unemployment rate with his private sector business success.
“He knows how to do it.”
After the speech, he responded to a slogan on many Romney supporters’ posters: “End the war on coal — Fire Obama.” His father would push for energy independence for America, he said.
“We are an energy-rich nation but we are behaving like an energy poor nation,” Romney said. “We have all these resources — coal, oil, natural gas — and we need to take advantage of all of them. And coal will be an important part of that.”
Today Romney said he would be heading to Erie.
Mississippi and Florida are on his schedule. His brothers are going through the Dakotas and Iowa.
No area would be neglected, he said.
“We will make sure we do not make a mistake in November,” Romney said.
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