‘History in the making’: An estimated 2,000 people jam Alice Pleasant Park for campaign visit
“I think this is monumental, I really do. This is history in the making.”
— Ray Beck, Craig City Council member, about Mitt Romney’s campaign visit Tuesday to Alice Pleasant Park in downtown Craig
The line to enter Alice Pleasant Park grew quickly Tuesday morning, winding its way around the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
As the morning wore on, the line would only grow longer as more residents gathered to catch a glimpse of the first presidential candidate to speak in person in Craig history.
“I think this is a piece of history,” Craig City Council member Ray Beck said before Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s speech Tuesday. “I think this is monumental, I really do. This is history in the making.”
An estimated 2,000 people, more by some estimates, filed through metal detectors staffed by Secret Service agents at security checkpoints before entering the park.
For many who came to see the presumptive GOP nominee, energy development and coal were top concerns.
Beck said the country has an abundance of natural resources that he believes President Barack Obama’s administration isn’t promoting.
Beck's primary question for the Romney campaign: “What would (Romney) do under his leadership to promote energy independence?” he said.
Craig Mayor Terry Carwile brought similar concerns to Tuesday’s rally.
He said the most crucial points of Romney’s speech related to energy development and “getting ourselves independent from foreign energy sources."
Randy Baumgardner, Colorado House District 57 representative and a candidate for Senate District 8, also said energy is a top concern.
He came to Tuesday’s rally to “see what (Romney) had to say and see where he’s going to stand on the energy policy for Northwest Colorado,” he said before the event.
The significance of Tuesday’s rally for Craig and Moffat County wasn’t lost on the state legislator.
He saw it as a sign Romney is “interested not only in the urban areas and cities, but also in rural Colorado,” he said.
Ron Schnackenberg, of Craig, said the same.
“It shows his willingness to pay attention to the little people, not just the big people,” he said.
He and his wife, Kim, also said they were interested to hear what Romney would say about energy generation and coal.
“It’s the economy in Northwest Colorado — a big chunk of it,” Ron said.
Michael Samuelson, 18, also came to the rally with concerns about energy and the economy.
Although his family isn’t directly connected to the mines — his parents, Mark and Shannon, run Samuelson’s True Value Hardware & Lumber — mining does have an indirect impact on the family business.
Coal mining helps drive employment, Michael said.
“The more people here, the more business,” he said. “It all adds up.”
More than anything, however, Michael went to the rally to get a taste for the political system now that he’s old enough to vote.
“I’m just here to see what it’s all about," he said. "It’s a big opportunity for our town.”
After the event ended, a few attendees remained behind after the rest of the crowd had dwindled.
Alan Switzler, 45, was among them.
Although he considers Craig home, he works as a technical advisor in the United Arab Emirates, he said, and living abroad has given him a sense for how other countries view the U.S.
“Obama’s kind of considered a joke in the Middle East in general,” he said, adding the president's policies are viewed as “very appeasing and weak.”
Romney’s speech didn’t change how Switzler will cast his ballot this year.
“It just strengthened my position that Romney’s not a Communist, he’s for the free market … and small business,” he said.
Jack Reed, a Craig resident and Twentymile Coal Mine employee, was pleased by what he heard Tuesday.
“I’ve been a Republican forever, but I liked his stance on giving energy a chance,” he said.
He also appreciated the candidate’s positions on the economy, deficit and education.
“I mean, heck, it’s everything I wanted to hear,” he said.
Apart from policy issues, Reed also resonates with how Romney presents himself personally.
“I haven’t always agreed with everything he’s supported, but he has wonderful character, and I think we need that,” he said.