The eyes of Americans across the nation were focused on the West Lawn of Flagler College this morning when, at about 9:30 a.m., presidential hopeful and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was introduced to a cheering crowd, numbering in the thousands, by Florida Governor Rick Scott.
The campaign event began with an introduction of Florida Senator John Thrasher by Lenny Curry, Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Thrasher drew applause when he introduced Attorney General of Florida, Pam Bondi, as the person leading the state in a lawsuit to stop the national healthcare program of the current president; referred to as “ObamaCare”.
Following Bondi at the podium was Florida’s Republican US Senator, Marco Rubio; who was under consideration before Romney announced this weekend that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan would be his vice-presidential running mate.
Surrounding the candidate were a horde of political supporters who began clearing security checkpoints more than two hours earlier. Local law enforcement, including Commander Steve Fricke and Chief Loran Lueders, accompanied a squad of officers with the St Augustine Police Department, as well as St Johns County Sheriff’s Director of Law Enforcement Art May and uninformed deputies, K-9 deputies and plain-clothed detectives.
Romney’s own security team, supplemented by a US Secret Service detail, US Marshals and gubernatorial security, attached to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, were all in place to guarantee the safety of more than a dozen high-ranking elected state and federal officials who were in attendance.
Romney’s detractors, represented by Annette Capalia and several members of the St Johns County Democratic Party, came as close as King Street and Valencia Street, waving Obama 2012 signs, as did some anti-Republican protestors who are associated with the local Occupy movement. There were no reports of conflicts between supporters and protestors — the peace was only disturbed by traffic jams and cheers from young and old alike hoping for a glimpse of the man who may become the next President of the United States.
Fire Chief Mike Allen and a team of paramedics removed one elderly female who collapsed from overexposure to the muggy, early morning heat. The team had the patient stable and secured to a stretcher and away from the crowds in minutes, without incident.
Historic City News editor Michael Gold joined news teams from all major national television networks, including CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX and an Associated Press pool cameraman and reporter. A contingent of television and radio broadcasters from Jacksonville and Orlando staffed cameras and microphones; supplying live feeds that were set up in the press gallery and were broadcast worldwide.
St Augustine Record senior reporter, Peter Guinta, busily wrote notes on his legal pad, as the events of the day unfolded before an entire tent-full of electronic reporters linked to their news blogs and websites via high-speed satellite broadband connections from their tablets and laptop computers; streaming video and typing their observations in real-time.
WFOY radio station owner Kris Phillips and political reporter Derek Hankerson interviewed several guests from the press area; including some local officials and Washington DC transplants who now call St Augustine home.
The excitement was contagious. It was truly a crowd built from people from all ages — without the circus atmosphere. The message was a return to conservative values with the promise that the Romney five-step plan will return Americans to work, return Americans to their homes, and release restraints on free enterprise — both with world trading partners and for the entrepreneurial small business owner.