Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney rallied Republican volunteers in Fairfax County Wednesday, stressing the importance of Virginia’s legislative elections in his first public appearance in the swing state this year.
More than a hundred supporters and reporters gathered outside the tiny headquarters of the Fairfax County Republican Committee to catch a glimpse of Romney.
In the final weeks before the Nov. 8 election, several high-profile politicians are stopping in the state to raise money and energize volunteers as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the Virginia Senate.
Romney was joined by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, head of Romney’s campaign in Virginia, and several local and state candidates.
The former Massachusetts governor sidestepped numerous questions — some being shouted out — about whether McDonnell would be a possible vice presidential candidate.
“It would be presumptuous for anyone in my position so far from nomination to start thinking about a vice president,’’ Romney said as McDonnell stood behind him smiling and nodding. “But I’m sure all the people recognize the great leaders we have in the Republican party and certainly this man is one of them.”
Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have both asked McDonnell for his endorsement in the GOP primary. But McDonnell said in an interview last week that he told them he would wait until after Virginia’s elections to decide whether to endorse.
“There are no endorsements today,’’ Romney told reporters.
If the GOP picks up just two seats, the party would seize control because a Republican — Bolling — presides over the Senate.
Romney “believes the first salvo in the next year’s campaign starts right here in the commonwealth of Virginia with these elections,’’ McDonnell said. “We want to be able to take back the Senate. If we win here in Virginia, it’s going to create a little bit of wind at the backs next year.”
Only three other states — Louisiana, Mississippi and New Jersey — are holding legislative elections this year.
“If you want to see how government doesn’t work, you look north of the Potomac River to Washington, D.C.,’’ Bolling said. “If you want to see how government does work, you look south of the Potomac River to the commonwealth of Virginia.”
Romney spoke to about 20 volunteers making calls in the basement of the tiny campaign headquarters, where signs for local and state candidates covered the walls. Others read: “Don’t get mad. Get even. Vote Republican,’’ and “Pelosi Lies.”
“Good morning. How are you?” Romney said to volunteers. “Thanks for helping out today.”
Then, he grabbed the phone and left a message for a possible voter.
“This is Mitt Romney. It really is,’’ he said. “I want you to vote for every Republican that’s on the ballot this year to help get the Senate back in Republican hands.”
McDonnell invited Romney to come to Virginia after Perry addressed more than 1,000 people at a fundraiser for the state party in Richmond, raising more than $125,000.
Charles Thomas, a veteran who is a precinct captain in Springfield, waited patiently outside for Romney. He said he has not decided who to back in the election.
“Whoever we nominate, I’ll vote for,’’ he said. “Mr. Obama, he’s destroyed the country with those ideas...Government can’t do everything.”
Romney, considered the national frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has been in Virginia several times this year for closed fundraisers, including one at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner and an event in Virginia Beach hosted by Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach).
He held a fundraiser Tuesday night at the McLean home of Bobbie Kilberg, a major Republican supporter who heads the Northern Virginia Technology Council. Kilberg said more than 350 people attended the event, which raised more than $325,000 for Romney’s campaign.
“It’s very clear to the people of America that President Obama, while he’s a nice guy, is just in over his head,’’ Romney said. “That he doesn’t have a plan to get America back to work.’’
Outside, dozens of supporters waived signs and hoped for a handshake or autograph.
Marie Quinn drove up from Chesterfield to catch a glimpse of Romney, who she says has the best chance of winning against Obama. She has been volunteering on campaigns since 1968, and is helping Romney’s campaign get enough signatures to appear on the ballot in the state.
“He seems really down to Earth,’’ said Quinn, who retired three years ago from working for the state parks department.