Salena Zito
NORTH HUNTINGDON – Mitt Romney was fired-up.

“The president actually said, if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that, somebody else made that happen.” He paused and threw his hands up before adding: “Really?”

Sitting in a small office attached to a local shale industry company for an interview with the Trib, Romney remained agitated and energized.

The agitation was personal because he is genuinely appalled by President Obama’s attitude toward business.

“I could not believe he said that. And it wasn’t just a twist of phrase, he actually goes on to explain what he meant by that,” Romney said, suddenly stretching forward as if finding it difficult to contain his feelings.

The energy came from what arguably was the presumptive Republican nominee’s best rally so far. More than 1,400 people packed a 4,000-square-foot warehouse – but it wasn’t the numbers, it was the event’s organic nature.

This was not a stacked rally, to which the usual GOP suspects bring a friend, or a ticketed event, for which you go to a local elected official to pick up a pass reserved for people who clap on cue.

This was the real deal – and the crowd, with nearly as many Democrats as Republicans, let Romney know they loved him and his message.

Bill Brasco of nearby Jeanette isn’t just a Democrat. He is an elected Democrat, serving as the local school board president for more than 42 years, the second-longest-serving board president in state history.

“Been a Democrat since I turned 21 and proud of it,” he said, adding that he will not vote for Obama in November.

“I just do not like the direction this country is going under the president,” he explained.

Brasco, 75, was one of many Democrats giving Romney more than a dozen standing ovations at the Westmoreland County rally.

“I could not have been more impressed,” he said. “I particularly liked when he talked about his five-point plan to get the economy roaring.”

Brasco, who spent most of his working career in sales, listed Romney’s points as if he himself had authored them: “Energy, trade, balanced budget, better education through training and skills, and economic freedom. … No, he was impressive, that was an amazing event.”

Who inspired whom more was difficult to determine: Did Romney feed on the crowd’s electricity, or did it feed on his?

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that weeks of Obama's attacks on Romney’s time at Bain Capital and demands for the release of Romney’s taxes have not dissuaded the GOP base or soured swing Democrats or independents against Romney.

The effect, remarkably, has been the reverse.

The attacks on Romney as a businessman are ridiculous, said Mark Lisovich, who lives here. The 51-year-old father of five – including a wounded Navy combat corpsman – is another Democrat who voted for Obama but now supports Romney.

“Without private-equity firms like Bain, I wouldn’t have a job,” he said of the small business he works for that received start-up money from investors. “And what will the tax thing prove? That Romney is rich?”

Lisovich was optimistic that things would improve when he voted for Obama in 2008; now he knows better, he said. “Romney has the right vision for the country, and he understands that businesses small and large are what make America great.”

Democrats, nationally and locally, were strikingly silent about this event, held at a booming energy firm that grew in 26 months from 20 employees and two trucks to 130 employees, a fleet of trucks and salaries that start at $60,000 and, by the third year, top six figures.

Their only response was more demands for Romney to release his tax returns.

The TV networks, national press, Washington elite and establishment Republicans continue hammering that storyline, too.

All of them overlook how the tax-return issue and the attacks on an American business leave many Americans fuming with an intensity far surpassing 2010’s voter agitation.

At the end of his interview, Romney walked down a hallway, turned and said: “That was a great rally! What an incredible country we have!”

If the Obama team also overlooks what’s happening in towns such as North Huntingdon, it may do so at its own peril.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.