JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald
Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is leading a group of Republican heavyweights in Durango today for an afternoon rally at Fort Lewis College’s Whalen Gymnasium.
Joining Ryan, R-Wis., are Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio; U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez; and country singer Mark Wills. The appearance is especially significant as it occurs just hours before the third and final presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
The doors opened at noon, and the program is scheduled to start at 2:35 p.m.
Inside, the gym was divided in half by a wall and adorned with blue banners with slogans such as “We need a real recover,” and “We can’t afford another four years.”
CJ Alderton, 53, of Durango, said he appreciates Ryan’s understanding of the economy.
“He carries 40 pounds of notes around all the time. He’s continually studying the budget and is the first person to confront the issue of entitlements. I appreciate someone courageous enough to tell the truth. For me it’s about math. Adding $1 trillion of debt a year is the wrong direction.” He said.
He was “ambivalent” about all the attention being lavished on Colorado as a swing state, and dislikes how politics can engender divisiveness between neighbors.
“I’m ready for the acrimony to be over. At the end of the day we’re one country and need to coalesce around one vision.”
If the GOP ticket is elected, Alderton is hopeful that more public lands will be opened for energy development, the business community will have “a friend in the White House,” and a more confidant foreign policy tone.
Gary Wilkinson’s top focus is limiting the reach of government regulation in everyday life. He cited a recent requirement to give his name and address when purchasing propane as an example of “just another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.”
Deb Andersen, 43, likes that Romney and Ryan come from two different generations. She also trusts Romney’s private sector acumen.
“Who better to run our government than a businessman?” she asked.
Next to Andersen was Tavvy Collins, who thinks Ryan brings some much needed youthful energy to the GOP ticket.
“Romney gets a reputation for being unrelatable. Ryan is more effusive and can connect,” Collins said.
Many in attendance criticized the Obama administration for profligate spending – a real-time national debt clock hung over the crowd tracking each new dollar of debt – and its response to the recent attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“I’m livid. I speak for a lot of people. It’s a scandal. They’re covering up the truth,” said Robin McGhehey, 43. “(The attack) was a heinous thing. We haven’t lost an ambassador since 1979. As Americans, we take care of our own.”
McGhehey came of age during the Reagan presidency, and says this is the first time since the 1980s that she’s been excited about “constitutional values” being revived. She has four children and said she doesn’t want to burden them with “debt that isn’t theirs.”
State Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, was master of ceremonies for the program.
“We have the greatest country in the world and want to keep it that way,” he told the crowd.
He laid out the national debt as a moral problem. He said America “needs God,” and led a spirited rendition of “God Bless America”.
Volunteer Wayne Dunn was impressed by the number of supporters who showed up, and how quickly organizers assembled the staging infrastructure.
Dunn had already cast his election ballot. He hoped Colorado Republicans turn out in force over the next two weeks to deliver the state’s nine electoral votes to Romney and Ryan. In his mind, the Obama presidency has been a failure on multiple fronts.
“Any, all and every (issue). It doesn’t matter which category. I think the man should be fired. The way we do that in this country is vote,” he said.
The Durango event is part of a Colorado tour by Ryan to help build support before the Nov. 6 general election.
Democrats were scrambling Sunday night to put together a counter demonstration at the college starting at noon.
Ryan will be joined by Mitt Romney at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison.
Ryan held a rally in Colorado Springs on Sunday evening. And Durango’s rally this afternoon will be sandwiched by stops for Ryan in Pueblo this morning and in Grand Junction this evening.
Boehner, R-Ohio, also was slated to be a guest speaker Sunday evening at a fundraiser for Tipton, R-Cortez, at the Glacier Club.
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald