I'd start by asking you and your readers to excuse any misquotes or errors in my report. I tried to take notes during the speech but my handwriting was illegible...Also I have bad grammar so either fix it or deal with it...
I managed to navigate the suprisingly nasty interstate on the way to the fairgrounds. I arrived at about 12:45 and there seemed to be about 150 people in attendance at that point (I'm terrible at eye-balling these things so I hope nobody gets mad if my guesses are wrong.) I milled around for a bit, the room had some farm-like decorations..a John Deere tractor, hay bales etc.... I took my seat in one section of bleachers but it appeared that area was reserved for "Farmers for Mitt" so I moved to a different area. Lots of legislators in attendance, I probably saw about 7 or 8 of them before the speech even started.
A little before 1, Gentry Collins did an intro, wearing a sportscoat without a tie. After the prayer it was onto Doug Gross. Let me say, Doug had his coffee this morning. "ARE YOU EXCITED!!!" he screamed. By this time I'd say there were 250 people in there maybe 300 or more. But one thing is for sure and that is the room was not full. At this point let me remind you that the roads were TERRIBLE and I didn't have to go far, so its understandable. Back to Doug. He said that he'd met with all the "erstwhile" candidates. I spent the next couple minutes trying to figure out what erstwhile meant. While I was zoning out he made a joke that everyone laughed at. I tried to find out what it was but the people I was sitting with wouldn't explain. Anyway Doug introduces Mitt's family and he comes to the stage with a country music song playing. Right as they start a group of young guys yell "We Love You Mitt." to a smattering of applause and laughter.
Mitt's wife starts and the most memorable thing she said was "I think they're going to go to all 83 counties" and without missing a beat, Mitt says "It's 99." I was glad he had that knowledge handy. Then Mitt goes, he thanks his "sweetheart" and gets off to the speech. At this point, I have to say that I have seen Mitt more comfortable giving a speech. He wasn't bad by any means, he's a very good speaker. But he seemed a little more scripted than usual and a little less comfortable with some of the material. He kept notes on the podium and referenced them pretty often. The beginning of the speech is bio and Michigan stuff mostly. Then he takes his first subtle jab at McCain saying "I don't believe Washington can be transformed by someone from the inside, someone that has spent their whole life there." After that the speech picked up some steam. About halfway through he got to the official announcement part. "With them behind me, with you around me, with all of America watching I declare that I am running for President." After a big cheer the crowd got a "Mitt Mitt Mitt Mitt" chant going. The loudest and longest cheer of the speech came a few minutes later after Mitt expressed his support for the President when it comes to Iraq. He ends talking a lot about freedom. After the speech Tom Petty's "Running Down the Dream" comes on and there's quite a buzz in the room. Right as I'm about to leave, Mitt jumps back on stage apparently because he forgot to acknowledge some of the local "dignitaries." Governors Ray and Branstad specifically. Then he goes into an impromptu riff about some issues. He was more comfortable at this point than during the whole speech, you could tell he had got his groove. After about an additional 3-5 minutes he calls it quits and they play "Life is a Highway."
All in all I'd say the weather hurt the energy in there a little bit. Mitt has a very distinct voice and speaking style and it seemed to resonate with a lot of the people in the room. I was glad I made it. Don't tell my boss.
We're hoping our friend can do this again in the future. Thanks for the breakdown.