DOSWELL, VA — The crowd at Mitt Romney’s rally here Thursday lacked the partisan fire of the people who showed up to celebrate Paul Ryan’s addition to the ticket or the over-the-moon optimism of the ones who appeared in the wake of his first debate victory. Instead the prevailing mood was one of exhausted, hard-earned hope. Romney was still in the game and that was enough for now.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Errol Hoffler, 72, told TPM, citing Obama’s struggles to win over independent voters in the polls. But he still had his concerns over what he acknowledged was a tight race.
“He’s ignoring the Constitution, trying to become a dictator and make us dependent on the government,” he said. “I don’t think a good portion of America realizes what he’s doing — if they did he’d lose in a landslide.”
Sandra Thornton, a retired school secretary, said she felt “very positive” about Romney and thought he had more energy on his side compared to Obama, who she believed had faded in stature since 2008. But the jury was still out on whether it was enough to win.
“This is really the first election I’ve felt absolutely terrified,” Thornton said. “Fox is trying desperately to make it out to be a Romney landslide, but I’m nervous.”
The biggest hurdle Thornton feared was Obama’s continued likability. “He has the charisma,” she said. “But he’s a liar.”
This was a popular concern. Kurt Johnson, 62, a who works in the chemical business in the Richmond area, said he was “enthusiastic” about the election but worried too many people see Obama as “hip, cool, and sympathetic.”
“Michael Jordan could be president on that basis,” he said. “I don’t mean to sound glib, but are we electing someone to know the top hip hop songs — or to get the job done?”
Steve Mills, who works in the energy industry, told TPM that he believed Romney’s debate performance had put him in position to win, but that “it’s going to be close — I’m naturally concerned, but hopeful.”
Lisa Beazley, 51, said she was “praying very hard and hoping people have common sense” ahead of election day. The stakes felt especially high for her, having lost her job as a medical assistant earlier in the year.
“I wasn’t looking for a miracle, it’s a tough job,” she said of the president. “But [the recovery] is just not here.”
Beazley hoped Romney would make “big changes” in health care and economic policy, but she was afraid Obama’s message might have too big a following to put a Republican in office.
“I still worry Obama has a shot,” she said. “There’s a lot of people out there that do depend on the welfare system and it worries me. I’m not saying I’m against the system — we all need it from time to time — but you also have to help yourself. You can’t be on it forever.”
Other possible roadblocks to the White House Romney supporters cited included “class envy,” media bias, an unwillingness to fire the first black president, and a weak economy masquerading as an emerging recovery.
One popular concern among conservative pundits these days that seemed to hold little truck in Doswell was Hurricane Sandy. Or, more specifically, Obama’s newly close relationship with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as they coordinate the government’s response to the deadly storm.
Out of about a dozen interviews, only one Romney supporter expressed even mild annoyance with Christie for lavishing praise on Obama days before a tight election.
“Christie’s an honest man and you got to give the president credit where it’s due,” Beazley said.
“It just shows that Christie is true to his office,” Tom Cauler, an Air Force veteran who works for the Defense Department, told TPM. “If that means sucking up to Obama, that’s what he has to do.”
“Chris Christie was born and raised in New Jersey,” local retiree Nancy Michaels said. “I understand he needs help wherever he can get it.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.