In a Fort Lupton field that showcased a dazzling view of the mountains on a blue-sky day, Mitt Romney gave a speech on energy this morning in front of a towering oil rig draped with the American flag. His message to the hundreds of supporters there—many of them workers in the oil-and-gas industry—was that President Obama’s energy policies are outdated, stifling oil production by not leasing federal land to oil companies, and focusing too much on above-ground energy sources, such as wind and solar, and not enough on underground sources, like coal and oil. As evidence, he not only touched on fracking, but also pointed to Republican-Democrat debates over ANWR, the Keystone Pipeline and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Romney did concede that the oil-and-gas industry has been flourishing with increased production and jobs, but argued that the industry’s prosperity is occurring in spite of the President’s policies.
“Now, the President tries to take credit for the fact that oil production is up,” Romney said. “I like to take credit for the fact that when I was governor, the Red Sox won the World Series. But neither of those would be the case.”
The comment elicited laughter and applause, the kind of warm reaction Romney got a lot of today, while comments about Obama elicited occasional booing—little wonder then that the presumptive Republican nominee seemed relaxed and jocular before the crowd, even joking about Obama’s triumphant nomination four years ago in Denver. “I want to remind you of what happened not far from here four years ago,” Romney said. “Then-candidate Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, got up and gave a speech at the Democratic Convention. He was not surrounded by mountains; he was instead surrounded by Greek columns. I don’t think he’ll be surrounding himself with Greek columns the next time he speaks at a convention, because he won’t want to remind people of Greece and the trouble they’re in, and the fact that he borrowed too much money.”
Romney was hosted by K.P. Kauffman Company, Inc. at one of the company’s drill sites. In attendance were numerous KPK employees, along with employees of other regional oil companies such as DCP Midstream and Noble Energy, all of whom seemed to be pro-Romney.
“I feel that he would support it [drilling] a little bit more, that’s for sure,” Shuyler Eagen said, a KPK employee in Weld County.
The dozen or so co-workers surrounding Eagen nodded in agreement.
“It’d open more doors for us, you know? The more drilling, the more work we’ve got, more production, the more jobs we can keep over here, especially here in Colorado,” KPK employee Bruce Bickel said.
Fort Lupton government officials were also present, including Mayor Tommy Holton, who has been an outspoken proponent of increasing fracking production and is a self-identified Romney supporter. Holton’s own kids work in the oil and gas industry, and he credits oil production with boosting job numbers in Weld County.
But while those gathering at Romney’s speech were overwhelmingly pro-Republican and in favor of decreased fracking regulations and increased oil production, a more dynamic crowd gathered throughout the morning on the corner of County Road 19 and Highway 52, just down the road from the drill site where Romney spoke.
In the early morning, the corner was occupied by the sort of pro-fracking types that attended Romney’s speech en masse, including Ann Cooke of Weld County, who described herself as a mom who supports fracking.
“You hear from a lot of moms: Oh, we’re against fracking. Well, there’s a whole bunch of us out there who are moms as well who know the benefits of natural gas for our communities, for our kids,” Cooke said. “We can’t enjoy the civilization, the lifestyle that we have without natural gas, and frankly without hydraulic fracturing”
After Romney’s speech, however, the corner was populated by an entirely different sort who decried what they perceived as lax fracking regulations.
“It’s not regulated nearly enough,” Lesley Manring of Occupy Greeley said. “They don’t really have full disclosure. What really bothers me about this industry, besides the fact that there are very long-term, lasting effects, is that these jobs are temporary. These are dirty jobs that will be gone in two years after they’ve just milked everything out of Weld County and left a lot of waste behind.”
The effect of exiting the Romney event and encountering the more polarized reality on the corner of County Road 19 and Highway 52 was something like stepping out of the college bubble and into the real world. Inside the bubble, the course for Romney seemed clearly defined within an atmosphere of political equilibrium. But outside, the world of the corner represented the more fractious nature of the general election, a place where activists from both sides of the political debate seemed to rotate by the hour as a noisy stream of traffic drove by, with drivers honking and yelling epithets about both Romney and Obama.
It was a reminder that things are anything but decided here in Colorado, a crucial swing state where fickle Independent voters now hold as much sway as Republicans and Democrats. And for a brief moment, Romney himself seemed to acknowledge that things in the Centennial State were more difficult than the bubble made them seem, and anything but decided.
“I need Colorado’s vote in November,” he said, as if conceding the point.
“Yes, you do,” responded a supporter in the audience.