SIDNEY, Ohio — It may be his supporters, or it may be those getting a glimpse of the GOP nominee for the first time, but Mitt Romney’s crowds are getting bigger in the campaign’s final stretch.
Since his strong presidential debate performance last Wednesday night, Romney has seen a bump in the number of people attending his rallies, which the campaign calls a sign of new enthusiasm in the final month of the campaign.
In the past week alone, Romney’s campaign says at least three of its rallies have, per the campaign’s crowd counts, exceeded 10,000 people: an Oct. 4 event with country singer Trace Adkins in Fishersville, Va., which was Romney’s largest event ever at 14,000 people; a rally last Sunday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., that drew 12,000; and one in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, that fire marshals estimated also drew 12,000.
Romney’s other rallies this week have been large as well: in Asheville, N.C., Thursday night, just before the vice presidential debate, Romney’s rally filled the venue and had an overflow crowd of about 8,000. The night before, a rally at the Shelby County Fairgrounds here in Sidney lured about 9,500 people.
The campaign has also seen RSVPs for its events increase “drastically” after the first debate, Romney spokesman Rick Gorka said.
“Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more fired up about this election, and fired up about Gov. Romney,” Gorka said. “The debate helped crystallize that energy and it’s translating to our events.”
With less than a month to go until Nov. 6, the standing-room only crowds could simply mean that excited partisans are finally ready to cast their ballot for their guy at the end of a long campaign. President Barack Obama is also drawing large numbers of people to his rallies, but that’s nothing new for a candidate known as a charismatic speaker, though it does mean his supporters are also fired up. And large crowds are not a reliable sign that a candidate is headed to victory.
John Kerry got huge crowds in the weeks before the 2004 presidential election — one event, in Philadelphia with Bill Clinton, was estimated at 80,000 to 100,000 — but the Democrat ultimately ended up losing on Election Day.
“When a big election gets close, every serious candidate can produce great crowds with the right notice and the right advance work,” Democratic strategist Jonathan Prince said. “That was true for John McCain in 2008 — and John Edwards in the 2008 primaries, and we know what those crowds signified about results! Frankly, if you’re at all arguably serious to win and don’t have big crowds in the final weeks, your staff isn’t doing its job.”
The people at the Romney post-debate events are energetic. In Cuyahoga Falls, for example, people turned out and waited for hours despite the chilly weather.
And when Romney tried to start a chant of “four more weeks!” — a reference to how much longer he hopes Obama has before he’s voted out of office — the crowd picked it up enthusiastically. By the time he got to Sidney the next night, the crowd already knew the chant before Romney even started it, and it repeated it throughout the night.
North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry, who helped rally the crowd in Asheville Thursday before Romney took the stage, told POLITICO “the momentum has grown to a frenzy since the debate.”
GOP strategist Ed Rollins called the growing crowds a “good sign” for Romney — both because it signifies more enthusiasm for his campaign and because it means his staff is organized and proactive.
“Crowd sizes are a vital part of any close campaign. They come out because the campaign is better organized and puts the resources into getting out supporters,” he said. “Crowds also grow as the enthusiasm for the candidate grows. Romney is now in a position to win. His supporters want to be a part of that victory.”
Compared with the numbers at Obama’s rallies, Romney’s events are still generally smaller: Obama’s rally at Ohio State University earlier this week, for example, attracted 15,000 people, and an event at the University of Wisconsin last week drew, per university officials, about 30,000.
Obama is the incumbent president and has always excelled at speaking in a large-rally setting, so to a certain extent comparing his crowds with Romney isn’t a fair comparison. But Romney has often been described as less than a natural campaigner and the enthusiastic turnout suggests that people may be more excited about his cause in the final stretch.
Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett also noted that Obama often holds his events on college campuses, where students are likely to turn out. Young people were a big part of Obama’s 2008 victory.
“It’s interesting to me that the president’s been going to campuses,” he said. “But when you’re giving students free food and a free concert, they’ll already show up.”
The bigger crowds, for Obama and Romney, could also just be a sign of the fact that the election is finally drawing to a close and both candidates’ bases are mobilized, excited and ready.
“People are starting to tune in more as we get into the month of October,” Bennett said. “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been in the state often enough that people now know they have an opportunity to go listen to them.”