MORRISON, Colo. — On a picturesque night here, a bright blue light turns the red rocks of an amphitheater blue, with a giant Romney campaign “R.” Hours before Mitt Romney is set to arrive, not a detail is left to chance. Red and white thundersticks are handed out. A Latino family is placed front and center, holding “Democrats for Romney signs,” and Kid Rock takes the stage.
About 18 hours later and just 20 miles away, President Obama would arrive to a similar scene. Some 16,000 people crowded into a park in downtown Denver Wednesday afternoon, where supporters swayed to soul and hip-hop music with a lake and the Denver skyline in the background.
The two campaigns are now turning their attention to the final 13 days of the election, a period that will be marked by campaign rallies, often more than one a day. These carefully choreographed events are designed to stoke the base, and get voters registered. They generally are not for the small fraction of undecided voters — a dozen interviews at both rallies found that all had made up their minds — but instead are another tool to drive up turnout.
And as Romney and Obama both came to Colorado — a swing state — their rallies offer a unique picture of their contrasting campaigns and styles, and the varied messages they are trying to drive home in their closing arguments to voters.
A steady stream of cars lines the roads leading to the Red Rock Amphitheater on the outskirts of Denver. A red Durango has a bumper sticker that reads, “Right president, wrong country,” with a Soviet hammer and sickle. “I stand with Israel” is on a Suzuki Grand Vitara, and “Mom’s for Mitt” is stuck on a Honda.
There are about 10,000 people, the kind of mega-rallies that Obama has been known for and that Romney is now generating.
Romney supporters are now predicting a blowout. They cite Romney’s business experience, his family, and his debate performances. They are angry at Obama, and satisfied now that they think the country is coming their way.
“People are waking up. This is the great awakening,” said Debra Griffin, 49, an event specialist from Golden, Colo. “The entire administration needs to be tried and hung for treason. Literally, hung for treason.”
Others were more concerned with the economy. An unemployed man hoped Romney would make getting a job easier.
“I’m a baby boomer, and I feel sorry for my nieces and nephews,” said JP Haider, a 63-year-old retired educator from Centennial, Colo.
Romney takes the stage, dispensing hugs and handshakes, and then stands with his hand over his heart, as if he’s overwhelmed by the crowd. “Wow. That’s a Colorado welcome. “Boy, what a place this is.”
“For a guy born in Detroit to come here and look at these extraordinary mountains — you look at the handiwork of our creator, and it’s just overwhelming,” he said.
Romney’s closing argument emphasizes that his campaign is “supercharged,” and that he’s leading a movement that is sweeping the country. He casts himself as a bipartisan bridge-builder, and he says the Obama campaign is attacking him because it has no ideas.
In his increasing effort to soften his image, Romney also talks about families that are struggling economically. He says that he understands the “heart of the American people” in a way that is a dramatic reversal to the way he disparaged 47 percent of the nation in a video by saying they considered themselves “victims” who were too dependent on government.
“I think of a single mom who scrimps and saves so that she can provide a good meal to her child at the end of the day,” Romney said. “Or to a dad that’s got two jobs right now — two jobs — so he can make sure his kids can have clothes that don’t make them look different from the other kids at school.”
Three hours before Obama is scheduled to arrive, a long line snakes around near the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. There’s an “Obama-Biden” sticker on a Prius, a “Women for Obama” sticker on a Hyundai Sonata.
The crowd seems less ebullient than the one that attended the Romney rally the night before. There’s a nervousness in the air.
“You know, you can’t get everything done in four years,” said Essie Thomas, a 59-year-old from Denver who lives on Social Security and frets about what would happen to it if Romney wins. “I’m nervous. If Romney wins, everything’s going downhill.”
In the city where Obama delivered his listless debate performance that gave Romney new life, Obama supporters are a bit baffled at the turn of events. They have little respect for Romney.
“I’m disgusted with Romney,” says Eileen Kearney, 63, an unemployed theater professor. “We’ve seen him lie, we’ve seen him cheat. We’ve seen him go from his original platform to one that’s more sellable.”
Nearly every speaker before Obama reminded those at the rally to vote early. The campaign also had vans to take people to vote after the rally, something Romney’s campaign was not able to do because it was a nighttime rally.
Obama appears, and rattles off a few jokes that feel impromptu even though he has a Teleprompter. Noting that he is voting early Thursday, he said, “I can’t tell you who I’m voting for. It’s a secret ballot.”
He continued with the lines he has recently started employing, suggesting that Romney is so uncertain of his positions that he has a case of what Obama calls “Romnesia.”
“We joke about Romnesia, but all this speaks to something that is essential to your choice, and that is trust,” Obama said. “When you choose a president, you don’t know what is going to come up. . . . Trust matters. And one thing I think you’ve seen, Colorado, over the last four years, is that I mean what I say. I do what I say I’m going to do.”
While Romney frequently cites what he will do, Obama ticks off the things that he has done. He talks about ending the war in Afghanistan, repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and bailing out the auto industry. He holds up a new booklet that the Obama campaign has produced that highlights some of his economic proposals.
At the end of his speech, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” came on the sound system. Obama did a few brief dance moves, mouthed a few lyrics, and then worked his way to the crowd to shake hands and sign autographs.
Location: Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colo.
Crowd size: 10,000
Bumper stickers spotted: “Moms for Mitt,” “I stand with Israel,” “Nope. Keep the Change”
Signs held: “Democrats for Romney,” “CO is Mitt Country,” “Juntos con Romney”
Key candidate line: “The president’s status quo campaign, you know, going forward with the same ideas as we’ve seen over the last four years, is why he’s slipping and it’s why our campaign is gaining. It’s why this movement is growing across the country and it’s why we need you to go out and get other people and recruit you to this cause because we need to take back America.”
Songs played: Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem;” Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake it for me);” Kid Rock’s “Born Free”
Surrogates accompanying them: Paul Ryan (vice presidential nominee), Susana Martinez (New Mexico governor), Kid Rock (rock musician), Rodney Atkins (country musician), Todd Helton (Colorado Rockies first baseman)
Location: Meadow at City Park, Denver
Crowd size: 16,000
Bumper stickers spotted: “Save Medicare vote Democrat” “I love Obamacare,” “Women for Obama”
Signs held: “Latinos for Obama.” “1.1 million auto jobs saved.” “Nurses for Obama”
Key candidate line: “We joke about Romnesia, but all this speaks to something that is essential to your choice, and that is trust. When you choose a president, you don’t know what is going to come up . . . Trust matters. And one thing I think you’ve seen, Colorado, over the last four years, is that I mean what I say. I do what I say I’m going to do.”
Songs played: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “I Won’t Back Down;” Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started;” Adele “Rolling in the Deep;” Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising.”
Surrogates accompanying them: Mayor Michael B. Hancock of Denver; Representative Diana DeGette; Governor John Hickenlooper