The smiles were big and the crowds even larger as Republicans from across the state—though relatively few from Morris County—gathered at the Monday night to meet the man many say will be the 2012 GOP presidential nominee—Mitt Romney.
Gov. Chris Christie was the host of the event, and many of those in attendance said it was their respect for Christie that enticed them to hear what Romney might have to say.
Most media were not allowed into the highly restricted event, and therefore, not permitted to have contact with the candidate or with Christie. Both were brought into and out of the hotel via a back entrance and were not seen save by staffers and those with tickets.
A representative of Romney for President who declined to provide his name said initially this was to be a private fundraiser. At almost the last minute, the reception was opened up to more attendees.
Tickets went for $500 per person on the low end of the scale. Those who wanted a photo with Romney or a quick hello paid $2,500 for the privilege. Most in attendance appeared to be government officials from around New Jersey, along with party high-rollers who could ante up nearly $3,000 for a night out.
And the excitement level was high.
"I love to see that Mitt Romney, a national presidential candidate, has come to my district," said a smiling Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Pine Brook). "It's a very good thing for the 26th district and for Parsippany."
Also in attendance was Morris County freeholders Gene Feyl and Margaret Nordstrom.
"I think this is exciting," Feyl said. "It's great that New Jersey has a voice in the primary and that Gov. Christie elected to bring Mitt Romney to Morris County first. As the most Republican county in New Jersey, we're delighted to welcome him."
Nordstrom was just as exultant as her colleague.
"This is fabulous. I've been a big fan of Mitt Romney since he saved the Olympic Games," she said, adding that she is sure the former Massachusetts governor will be the next GOP nominee. "I think he's tremendous."
That seemed to be the general sentiment among attendees, though some, like New York Jets center Nick Mangold, said they came to listen and learn.
"I'm just checking things out. I got an invitation to come and thought it would be a neat experience to come and hear what he has to say," Mangold said. "It's great to be in Parsippany and to meet the fans."
State Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr. (R-21) described the opportunity to meet Romney as "extraordinary."
"A lot of people are very excited about Mitt Romney becoming president of the United States. He's a person who had a hands-on approach as governor and in saving the Olympics," Kean said. "He will do a tremendous job leading the country, certainly better than the current president."
One of the youngest attendees was Benjamin Caplan, 15, a sophomore at Millburn High School, who came to the Parsippany fundrasier with his father, Jonathan Caplan.
"I'm here because I'm really interested to learn about Mitt Romney's campaign," he said. "I think he has a valid chance to become our next president."
After meeting the candidate, the teenager looked drained.
"He was really nice. I'm sorry, the whole thing left me ... I can't really think of what to say," he said. "I met Mitt Romney."