In one week, northwest Iowa hosted two of the men who hope to win November’s presidential election. First, President Barack Obama hosted a rally in Sioux City. On Friday, Governor Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in a nearby college town. Thousands of people found their way to Romney’s event in Orange City.
The crowd leaps up as a band ushers in presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He strides out on a stage built in the middle of Northwestern College’s gymnasium.
"One thing I can assure you is that, if I’m president of the United States, I will stop this divisiveness and I will do everything in my power to unite the American people," Romney says.
Red, white and blue speckle the Bultmen Center. Pockets of people sport shirts emblazoned with Romney’s name as they crowd into bleachers and folding chairs. Dozens wave campaign signs as others proudly display their homemade messages to Romney.
"I’m looking over the hill and seeing what’s going to happen down the road a bit. What’s gonna happen is America’s about to come roaring back," Romney says. "Look, this is the greatest nation in the history of the earth. The principles upon which this country was founded, those principles are continuing to guide and inspire the people of America and people around the world."
An hour before she hears from the Republican candidate, college student Shelby Vander Molen stands in an agonizing line on an uncharacteristically cool September morning. She says it’s worth the chill to see the man who could be America’s next Commander in Chief.
"I guess I don’t know a lot about politics, and this is my first year that I’m allowed to vote, so I’m just trying to do my research and figure out what I think and who I want to vote for," Vander Molen says. "So this is just one more step in that process for me."
Vander Molen is one of few in the crowd of 3,000 who isn’t already a diehard Romney supporter. Bernice Spinelli lives in Aurelia, Iowa. She waits in line for more than an hour and a half and travels through TSA security for a chance to hear from her candidate.
"I want to hear the truth. I’m sick and tired of hearin’ all this propaganda, and I’m tired of hearing all the lies," Spinelli says. "I’ve watched both of the speeches from both sides, and it’s really disgusting to believe all those lies that are put out there."
Spinelli says the next president has to help the economy, because she’s worried about her children and grandchildren’s burden amid the job climate and skyrocketing national debt. Candidate Mitt Romney focuses on those economics.
"I see a sign up there. $16 trillion in debt. Thanks for making that. Thanks for reminding us. By the way, Governor Branstad and I, we won’t be paying that back. We’ll both be gone when that’s paid back. You guys will be paying for that," Romney says.
People in the crowd sit attentively as Romney lays out his vision for the country. He highlights economic strategies, even acknowledging support for the Keystone XL pipeline. Plans for that cut straight through the Great Plains. Romney’s emphasis on economics is a win according to Sheldon, Iowa’s Rod Funkert.
"November 7, the entire nation will have a different attitude. I sell real estate. I look for an instant change. People are gonna go, oh, we can buy a house now," Funkert says. "And I really look for good change, and it’s gonna be the next day."
Funkert says Romney’s stop encourages people in his part of the state. College student Tyler Vermeer echoes that.
"We’re in a town of 6,000 people in pretty much the middle of nowhere, so it’s a pretty big honor," Vermeer says.
While national polls show young people tend to support the Democratic party, Vermeer and his roommate Danny Locker say they’re affiliation isn’t about age but core values and beliefs.
"This is Sioux County, probably the most conservative county in the nation. Just the strong reformed Christian background, the strong evangelical leads us more toward the conservative side of things," Vermeer says. "It’s just kind of how, what we’re raised with."
"There’s a large portion of the students on campus would probably would vote with the Republican side. They’re definitely more conservative in their ideology, and that kind of thing," Locker says.
Both students say Romney delivers Orange City a message they expected – and one they want to hear. Danny Locker says he’s impressed by the rally’s energy.
"Sioux County isn’t known for being really excitable," Locker says. "They showed a lot more enthusiasm than I thought they might have. It was fun to see all the people in there, especially when they started giving out hand shakes, when Romney started shaking hands."
"I love this country. I love the people of America. I believe in the people of America, and we’re going to take back America and leave it strong. Thank you so very much!" Romney says.
Republican Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have less than two months before voters mark their names on the ballot or decide to re-elect President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
President Obama made a campaign stops in Iowa on Saturday, September 1. Click here to hear about the rally and people's reactions in SDPB Radio's Dakota Digest from Sioux City, IA.