Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigned outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Monday, a day before Pennsylvania and four other states hold their primary contests.
Romney isn’t concerned about the primary, but Pennsylvania will likely be an important swing state in the general election. And Monday also offered a chance to audition a potential running mate: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Rubio, a Tea Party favorite, was the main draw for Jane Spresser, who arrived early for a town hall meeting. She stood in line wearing an American flag T-shirt and a couple of NRA buttons on her jacket.
Spresser doesn’t love Romney yet. “He’s got to prove … he’s more conservative for me,” she said. “Rubio’s the reason I came today.”
She said Rubio is “a true conservative.”
“It’s in his soul. It’s in his blood. He can talk about it without having a note in front of him. I love him,” she added. “He would change the ticket. I think he would keep Romney more conservative, and he would bring in some of the Latino vote.”
Monday was the first time Romney and Rubio have campaigned together. Before the event, at Romney’s first news conference in more than a month, he said the vice presidential gantlet has barely started.
“We really haven’t had a discussion yet of putting together a list or of evaluating various candidates,” Romney said. “That’s a process.”
Rubio refused to comment on that process. In front of the cheering crowd, he showed his aptitude at two roles that any vice presidential candidate must play: cheerleader and attack dog.
“He’s no longer a theory, Barack Obama is a reality. And for millions of Americans today, life is worse than it was three years ago, because he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Rubio said.
Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, talked about his humble upbringing and turned the story of his unlikely success into an indictment of Democratic proposals.
“I don’t ever remember my parents saying to me, ‘You know what, if only we took something away from them and they gave it to us, things would be better,'” he said.
There was not a lot of public interaction between Romney and Rubio. In a way, Rubio’s ease with the audience made Romney’s occasional awkwardness stand out even more.
Romney told the crowd that the president has failed to fix the economy. At the same time, he acknowledged that signs are improving.
“I sure hope it keeps getting better,” Romney said. “And the president’s going to stand up and say he deserves credit for that. No, if it gets better, it’s not because of him. It’s in spite of him.”
President Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008. Romney supporter Larry Snover said the key to flipping the state red this time will be building enthusiasm for Romney in outlying counties like this one to match the enthusiasm for the current president in Pennsylvania’s urban centers.
“Depends on whether people in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, the inner cities — who, I’m sorry, don’t many times have any skin in the game, so to speak — whether they come out and vote in volume,” Snover said, referring to poor people receiving government benefits.
Yet even here outside of Philadelphia, Romney has some work to do.
“He says a lot but he doesn’t say anything,” said Phyllis Meyers, who describes herself as a lifelong Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and doesn’t know who she’ll vote for this time.
She came to see whether Romney could win her over. “He’s a crowd pleaser, and he’s handsome. And he has a nice manner about him. That doesn’t do it for me,” she said.
Romney may not have won points with her when he joked at the beginning of the town hall meeting: “Now you get to ask questions, and we get to dodge with our answers.”