FISHERVILLE, Virginia — Randy Goettge left Leesburg about 3:30 p.m. Thursday and the normal drive time should have gotten him to the Romney-Ryan “Victory Rally” here by the announced start time of 6 p.m. Unfortunately for Goettge, about 10,000 other Virginians had similar plans, producing what was surely the biggest traffic jam in the history of Augusta County. Traffic was backed up for miles in every direction — all the way from the Highway 285 exit to Interstate 81 four miles west — and by the time Goettge found a place to park and walk the final mile to the Augusta Expo Center, it was 7:30 p.m. and the gates were already closed.
Goettge was by no means alone. Thousands more late-arriving supporters — some of whom had driven from as far away as Richmond and the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. — stood on a hillside across from the outdoor arena where a fired-up sign-waving crowd was packed to fire-code capacity. However, the sound system was powerful enough to be heard at a quarter-mile distance and the giant TV screen was visible from the hillside, providing Goettge and the overflow crowd with an excellent view of the proceedings.
The massive turnout was proof that Mitt Romney’s stunning victory in Wednesday’s debate struck a spark of excitement, reviving a campaign that had sustained a month-long battering of negative media coverage. “The crowd was feeding off the energy from last night,” said Amy Whitaker, who drove from Amherst County to attend the rally. “A lot of us didn’t get to sleep until 2 in the morning, we were so hyped up.… We were just surprised [Romney] did so well, and how bad Obama did.”
Romney and his running mate were eager to capitalize on that energy. “Last night, President Obama made it very clear he’s going to raise taxes,” Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan told the crowd, which booed the idea. “Today, Vice President Joe Biden made it even more clear. In Iowa, he said, he asked himself a question and he asked if he and President Obama want a trillion-dollar tax hike. And his response to himself was ‘Yes, we do.’ That’s a direct quote, friends. Well, Virginia, no, we don’t. … What we don’t need is a tax increase on our successful job creators that will cost us 700,000 jobs.”
Biden’s remark in Iowa — and Ryan’s rebuttal in Virginia — were a good hint of why the damage Democrats suffered Wednesday isn’t likely to be repaired any time soon. Next week, the notoriously gaffe-prone vice president will debate Ryan, arguably the top policy wonk in Congress, and after seeing the way Romney mopped the floor with Obama, few expect that Biden will do much better against Ryan. Liberals angrily charged that Romney won Wednesday’s debate by lying, as if Democrats were famous for honesty, and as if their post-debate complaints were anything other than sour grapes.
In a Thursday interview with Sean Hannity, Romney said that the debate was “a chance for each of us to describe our vision for the country. And the President talked about his vision, which was basically a continuation of the policies of the last four years. He wants another stimulus. He wants to have government investing for us. He wants to hire more government workers. He wants to raise taxes, as Vice President Biden blurted out today, they want to raise taxes by a trillion dollars. It’s more like $2 trillion by our calculation. He has laid out the same policies he has been following for the last four years. And I don’t think that sells very well when people hear that.”
No new polls have yet measured the size of Romney’s post-debate “bounce,” but if the enormous crowd that turned out Thursday here is any indication, it will be sizeable. Polls have shown a tight race in Virginia, and the Republicans will continue campaigning Friday morning in Abingdon, in the southwest corner of the state. Romney closed his speech at the Fisherville rally with a confident proclamation of victory in the election now only 33 days away: “When Paul Ryan and I get to Washington, we will begin a real recovery that will put Americans back to work.”