A first term full of legislative battles and upheaval overseas has made it difficult for President Barack Obama to recapture the soaring enthusiasm of his 2008 campaign. But a group of high-profile Obama surrogates had no trouble firing up the faithful at a Durango rally Friday afternoon.
About 150 people showed up outside the La Plata County Democrats building on the corner of College Drive and East Third Avenue to listen to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, state Sen. Gail Schwartz and Lieutenant Gov. Joe Garcia, all of whom arrived in an RV emblazoned with campaign slogans.
Over the six-day tour, the RV will visit 18 Colorado cities to urge last-minute voter registration and delineate a sharp contrast between Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.
After buttering up the crowd with flattering words about Durango – “a beautiful marvel of the planet,” Salazar said – the speakers jumped into attack mode.
They criticized Romney for his perceived malleability on policy issues and accused him of making disingenuous claims during the first presidential debate on Wednesday in Denver.
“(In Colorado), we like when politicians say the same things on the Front Range and the Western Slope, the primary election and the general,” Bennet said. “Romney doesn’t know what promises he’s making. It wasn’t the same guy on stage in Denver. He’ll find out Coloradans are not amused by that stuff.”
Garcia, who is bald, conveyed the same point with a touch of self-deprecating humor.
“If I saw (Romney) on the street, he’d tell me I had a great head of hair!” he jested.
By contrast, the speakers praised Obama’s consistency, listing financial-sector reform, the Affordable Care Act, repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy and withdrawing combat troops from Iraq as major accomplishments of note.
The gathering drew some reactions from drivers passing by. Periodic honks of approval were interspersed with a few booing dissenters. At least one person was heard declaring his undying support for Ron Paul, who exited the race in May.
With Big Bird suddenly a campaign trail talking point, Udall invoked Sesame Street to criticize Romney’s proposed discretionary spending cuts.
During the Wednesday debate, Romney pledged to eliminate federal funds ($445 million in fiscal year 2013) for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which subsidizes television network PBS.
“What about Big Bird? We’ll protect Big Bird. We’ll protect Elmo. We’ll protect Bert and Ernie even though they live in the same room!” Udall said, in a nod to Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage in May.
Another line from Udall was probably the rally’s biggest crowd-pleaser.
After recalling that the former Massachusetts governor came from a “car family,” Udall criticized Romney’s opinion that Detroit automakers should have gone through managed bankruptcy and restructuring instead of being bailed out by American taxpayers.
“What gear do you put the car in to move forward? D.” he asked. “To move backward?”
“R,” the crowd finished with relish.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has named Colorado one of eight swing states in the November election.