GREENCASTLE, Pa. — The people working behind the scenes to bring presidential candidate Mitt Romney to Franklin County, Pa., started their efforts long before the crowd of 600 started filing in at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Starting at 7:30 a.m., Green Grove Gardens’ proprietor, Keith McCleaf, continued to prepare the venue and oversaw his staff members serving the largest crowd ever gathered at the special-events center off Pa. 16.
“It’s not been bad at all (to organize). The Franklin County Republican Party has been really easy to work with,” he said, saying Secret Service and campaign staff were also cooperative.
Secret Service personnel began securing the property midweek; they designated setback areas and a section of the room for media, and trained dogs did searches. The Romney campaign provided items like barriers and risers.
Security personnel told Franklin County Republican Committee Chairman Dwight Weidman they could accept 400 people an hour through metal detectors.
“I guess I wasn’t aware of the scope and amount of security. It’s a well-oiled machine,” Weidman said.
Party leaders said the last time a presidential front-runner came to Franklin County was in 1996, when former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole toured TB Wood’s Inc. in Chambersburg, Pa. He spoke at a rally in the plant’s parking lot.
“The parking lot was full, but I don’t think it compared to what we have tonight,” said G. Warren Elliott, former Franklin County commissioner.
Committee members praised Weidman for bringing the candidate to a rural county.
“It took a lot of communication between myself and the Romney campaign,” Weidman said, saying he started talking to campaign officials last summer about the possibility.
Organizers rescheduled the dinner several times to accommodate the candidate’s schedule, even after tickets were printed. They used markers to cross off an incorrect date.
The event sold out quickly, but ticket requests continued through the morning of the event, Weidman said.
Dick McCracken of Waynesboro, Pa., spent four days at Green Grove Gardens to help advance teams.
“They’re willing to work with you as to what your needs are,” McCracken said.
His wife, Barbara, took tickets from guests at the door and commented on the magnitude of Romney’s visit.
“It’s such an amazing thing,” she said. “Hopefully he’ll be president and remember where Franklin County is.”