While President Obama's Golden appearance two weeks ago had the aura of a rock and roll festival, Mitt Romney's "Victory Rally" in southwest Denver Sunday had the feel of a come-to-meeting tent revival, cross-bred with a country barbecue on steroids complete with a live concert by country music star Jody Messina, performances by the D'Evelyn Junior-Senior High School marching band and its concert choir, along with a Boy Scout honor guard.
Supporters turned out in the thousands, happily waiting for hours to get a glimpse of their guy. Many quietly sat on the ground and passed the time with a good book (mostly history or politics).
I squeezed in between a group of highly enthusiastic Latina members of the Colorado Hispanic Republicans organization sporting "No mas Obama" signs and a nice, quiet retiree from Rockford, Ill. (honestly, I had not planned this as a western Illinois native) attending his first political rally.
The decibel level on my left rose as the ladies discussed their plans for the upcoming first presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at Denver University, while the gentleman on my right prepared to get a few good photos of the candidate.
Amid intermittent shouts of "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt," "We want Mitt," and "No More Years," state and local Republican leaders urged attendees to vote early by absentee ballot, and then work the trenches to encourage their undecided friends and neighbors to join the cause.
Getting the crowd pumped up for the main event, Colorado State Republican Chairman Ryan Call reminded everyone that Colorado will play "an outsize role in the election."
Jefferson County Commissioner John Odom, a crowd favorite, mentioned Colorado's 8.2 percent unemployment rate and played on America's Sunday football obsession. "America needs a new quarterback," he said. "We drafted an unproven rookie."
Bob Beauprez, former representative from Colorado's 7th Congressional District, whipped the crowd into an uproar with a list of Obama's failures to deliver on his promises, telling them that "fewer people are employed today" than when he took office, that the stimulus failed, and that his health care plan will cost the middle class more, not less.
Citing Congressional Budget Office figures, Beauprez told the crowd that under Obamacare, health care premiums will go up by $2,400 instead of the $2,400 decrease that the president had promised would occur under the Affordable Care Act.
Contrary to Obama's message that he would not raise taxes on the middle class, Beauprez stated that Obamacare itself institutes 20 new taxes.
Before the event, I had wondered what tack Romney would choose for this rally, with Obama's troops still drumming his "47 percent" comment into the minds of the electorate and the mainstream media continuing to take him to task for speaking out on events in Libya before the president made his comments.
Would he harsh on the Mile High City's celebrated mellow, or would he use the moment to create the image of a highly competent and caring public servant?
The candidate had to make a strong impact or he would gamble on losing the swing state where he's arguably running neck-and-neck with Obama, and where 5 percent of the voters are undecided, according to the latest Rasmussen poll.
Contrary to the Obama campaign's portrayal of him, Romney did not come off as a heartless, money-grubbing millionaire out to pull the rug out from under the poor and needy, or as a corporate raider ready to waste the middle class so fat cats can have a tax cut.
Focused, intense, charming and working without Obama's ubiquitous teleprompter, Romney passionately countered his opponent's message with a a dual message of the need for fiscal responsibility and for repairing America's weakened international image.
The candidate meticulously explained the quintet. Romney would "take full advantage" of all energy resources, doubling permits on public lands and offshore to make up for the current administration's reductions, and would immediately approve the Canada pipeline through the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, a move that could bring thousands of jobs to Colorado.
His administration would expand international trade, while holding U.S. trading partners, especially China, accountable for "cheating."
It would support better education to train a workforce for the future, particularly mentioning that the schools would be focused on what's best for the students, not for the teachers unions.
He would work to cut and cap federal spending to put the country on track to a balanced budget.
And fifth, Romney said he would be a champion for entrepreneurs and people operating small businesses. Overall, he claimed his plan would create 12 million new jobs.
"This is a nation of dreamers," he said. "We built this country."
Romney said his attitude toward government is the result of a lifetime of experience. A Harvard grad like Obama, he claimed he knows what will work "not because I studied it, but because I lived it."
Capping off his comments, the Republican standard-bearer related that Polish labor leader and statesman Lech Walesza recently asked him, "Where is American leadership?" And in the wake of recent developments in the Middle East, Romney told the crowd, "We want to have a country so strong no one would ever think of attacking us."
Essentially, Romney's message continued to be that of a smaller federal government and a stronger national presence. His supporters were no less enthusiastic than Obama's were two weeks ago. There were even a few "Democrats for Romney signs" in the mix.
I said goodbye to my new Latina girlfriends as they headed off to spread the word, and turned to my buddy from Rockford. In the place of a mild-mannered Midwestern Republican stood a glowing convert ready to call his friends and family to enlist them for the cause.
As I left I wondered to myself whether they had considered the impact that reduced national spending would have on their community, a hub for U.S. government facilities and offices that a 2006 study by the University of Colorado said brought $6.8 billion in net economic benefit to the Denver Metro area and $8.4 billion in net economic benefit to the state of Colorado.
Would they be happy to soldier through while the GOP's promised transition to a vibrant economy spurred by private business growth took place?
About the image? If Romney was trying to position himself as a mature and confident leader in contrast to what some perceive as the weakness and inexperience of a freshman senator boosted to power too soon, he was probably very successful.
I'll put it this way. Remember that time when you were horsing around in the living room, probably picking on your little brother or sister, probably making too much noise and threatening Mom's cherished keepsakes and all of a sudden you knew someone was watching, you looked up and there was Dad on the stairs?
You knew you could have fun, but you'd better behave while you're doing it. Yeah, it felt like that moment when there's an adult in the room.
Maggie Fiorini is a former radio and newspaper journalist now living in Denver.