MANCHESTER, N.H. — It was hard to miss the theme of Mitt Romney's speech here Tuesday night. Plastered across the podium, splashed against the banner in the backdrop, and peppered throughout the Romneys' remarks, the slogan was everywhere: "A better America begins tonight."
But Romney's speech was a classic challenger's case against the incumbent, and for many of the voters who packed into the Radisson Armory to cheer on the Republican standard-bearer, tonight wasn't about the America Romney wants to build. Instead, what got them animated was the America President Obama and his cadre of crusaders is supposedly destroying.
BuzzFeed asked more than a dozen rally-goers here why they were supporting Romney. Some described the economic burden Obama's policies have put on their families. Others bemoaned the dysfunction that has plagued Washington under the current administration. And more than one took the opportunity to rail against Ann-bashing Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.
But if there was one thing the responses had in common it was that none of them had very much to do with Mitt Romney.
In many ways, it's the natural byproduct of a campaign that has been waged from the start as a campaign against — against the president, against Romney's Republican rivals, and against various elements of the progressive agenda. After months of work to define Romney's opponents — perhaps at the expense of defining their won candidate — the campaign now has a base of supporters more animated by the other guy's failings than their guy's vision.
John Gramatikas, a Parks Department employee from Manchester, stood near the back of the crowd joke-dancing to the band's Black Eyed Peas cover, much to the amusement of the voters looking on.
Initially, when he was asked why he supported Romney, he launched into a diatribe about the two-party system: "I've long said that the parties are about as useful as a case of the poops."
But when pressed for a direct answer, he hesitated.
"Well, right now it looks like he's gonna win [the primary], right?" he offered. "So, uh, yes. Because my personal opinion is—I don't use the word hatred, but I totally dislike the current administration."
When Genie Keith, from Pembroke, N.H., got the question, she immediately started talking about the other Romney — Ann.
"I think he's got a good wife behind, so that helps," she said. "I didn't like the comments that were being passed around about her not working. Oh, that was awful."
Keith's husband, Steve, chimed in, "This is going to be a vicious fight, because [Obama's campaign] is desperate." Steve said he supported Jon Huntsman in the primary, and was disappointed when he dropped out.
"I still like Romney, though," he offered. "I think he'll have a tough road trying to undo this mess we've got into."
Cal Bowie, and engineer from Manchester, was among the first wave of voters to filter out of the quickly-draining room as Romney worked the rope line after his speech. Asked why he was supporting the Republican, he shot back, "Come on, is that a legitimate question?" and then paused as though he expected an answer.
After a beat of silence, he went on.
"Look who's in the office now!" said Bowie. "I mean, you know, it could have been Mitt, it could have been Newt, it could have been Santorum."
He added, "I'm glad it's Mitt, but I really wish he had the dynamic flare of a speaker like Obama."
Did anything stand out in particular from Romney's speech?
"I liked how he took on Obama's record and pulled it apart one by one and said, you know, 'We're not going to do that again,'" said Bowie. "I really hope if he gets elected, that's true."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at email@example.com.
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