A confident Mitt Romney, two weeks out from Election Day, spoke about his campaign as a movement sweeping the nation during a moonlit rally at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Tuesday night.
Repeatedly, Romney referred to President Barack Obama as a president whose time has passed out of ideas to improve the economy and out of touch with the needs of business owners. Romney said his own plans would restore American prosperity and prestige.
"The president's status-quo campaign ... is why he's slipping, and it's why we're gaining," said Romney, who was joined at the rally by running mate Paul Ryan. "It's why this movement is growing across the country."
Roughly 10,000 people packed into the concert venue west of Denver, with thousands more turned away at the door. Traffic leading into Red Rocks gridlocked in the hours before the event. The lines to go through security and enter the venue wound through the parking lots.
It was the Romney campaign's biggest rally in Colorado by far, and the campaign pulled out the stops for it. Supporters in the audience clacked together Thundersticks, creating a sound akin to a stampede. Musicians Kid Rock and Rodney Atkins warmed up the crowd. Colorado Rockies legend Todd Helton showed up to give his endorsement.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican Party, also was on the bill, telling the crowd: "There's a guy backstage who has the answers to the problems we face."
When that guy walked out on stage and the crowd roared a deafening roar he appeared in awe of the scene before him.
"What a place this is," he proclaimed. He then paused, and the cheers of the crowd cascaded forward. It was a long way from his days during the Republican primary, when even supporters openly wondered whether Romney's own party would ever embrace him.
On Tuesday night, they cheered him like family.
"I think even the Republicans in the state have underestimated support for Romney," supporter Terri Miller said.
Deb Lowry sat seven rows from the stage.
"This is the first political event I've ever been to, the first politician I believe in," said Lowry, who owns a Liberty Tax franchise. "I feel like he truly gets the economy."
The source of Romney's momentum is of little secret: Pundits largely agree his performance during the three debates elevated his stature in the race. And neither he nor Ryan on Tuesday was shy about talking about the debates, the most recent of which was Monday night.
"They have supercharged our campaign," Romney said. "We're on the homestretch now. And I think the people of Colorado are going to get us all the way there."
"Last night," Ryan said in introducing Romney, "we witnessed for the third time a man who is ready to be a great president."
Although the campaign kept mum about the symbolism of a rally at Red Rocks, it was undeniably the kind of event that could give Romney a little stardust. And supporters clearly enjoyed the grandeur of the venue, snapping pictures of one another with the stage as a backdrop.
But, for all that atmosphere, Romney's speech largely stuck to familiar lines. He criticized Obama's handling of the economy, arguing that the president would raise taxes on small businesses. He vowed to balance the federal budget, get tough with China on trade and boost domestic energy production. He even made time for a somber story about a Boy Scout troop from Monument, who gave a flag to NASA to ride into space on the space shuttle Challenger and then got it back undamaged, even after the shuttle exploded.
"We'll bring back the America that has been the hope of the earth," Romney said in closing. "And we need your help because it matters. It matters for your kids and their kids."
Obama will get his chance to make a rebuttal in Colorado on Wednesday, when he holds a rally in Denver's City Park with the downtown skyline as a backdrop. But in an e-mail statement sent out after Romney's rally, Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said Romney would take America backward.
"The Mitt Romney we saw tonight in Colorado was dour, defensive, and dishonest and it's no surprise why," Smith said. "Last night, he was exposed as reckless and wrong on foreign policy and failed to present any specific plans for what he'd do as president."
But, in the glow of Red Rocks' stage Tuesday night, those words would have little resonance with people such as Maryn and Michael Sturm.They drove to the event from Eaton, where they run a small vision clinic, because it felt like "something they had to be apart of," Maryn said. They say Romney understands them. They noted they already sent in their mail ballots."It's been very exciting," Maryn said.