Mitt Romney fought to the bitter end last night, insisting that he still expected to eke out an success, even as his pathways to the White House appeared to be slowly narrowing.
As darkness fell, the Republican candidate told reporters that he’d prepared just one set of remarks to deliver to revellers at his late night election night party: a 1,118-word victory speech.
“I feel like we put it all on the field. We left nothing in the locker room. We fought to the very end, and I think that’s why we’ll be successful,” he said as his campaign jet returned to Boston. “This is a big day for big change.
The remarks came as Romney returned from an election day spin through the swing states. After watching results come in from his nearby hotel suite, he was due to join roughly a thousand supporters and campaign workers in the Grand Ballroom of Boston’s huge steel-and-glass Convention Centre.
Outwardly, the mood remained optimistic, with aides insisting that mixed exit polls could not be trusted. Romney, a lifelong teetotaller, reportedly told staff to keep sparkling apple juice on ice for victory toasts.
“I’m expecting a very solid win tonight and I’m looking forward to being able to represent all the people in getting this country going again,” he’d earlier told WMAL, a conservative talk radio station.
“I’m looking forward to rebuilding our military, rebuilding our economy. Getting better jobs, and getting that attractive balanced budget.”
Mr Romney had seemed similarly relaxed and confident throughout the day, although final polls showed President Obama with a narrow but solid lead in almost every swing state, Mr Romney predicted that a final surge of GOP support would put him over the top.
“It’s very hard to gauge just what’s going to happen state by state,” he said. “The polls we’re seeing show the race very close in Virginia, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, and even in Michigan and Minnesota. So I believe I’m going to win, but I can’t tell you which state’s going to be the one that puts me over the edge.”
Mr Romney and his wife, Ann, began the day by voting at a community centre in Belmont, the wealthy suburb of Boston, where he lives. He told reporters he felt “very, very good” about his prospects. When asked how he’d voted, he joked: “Oh, I think you know!”
Behind the scenes, the picture was already less rosy. With almost every major poll giving Mr Obama a lead in the states he needs to reach 270 votes in the Electoral College, forecasting analysts put Romney’s chances of victory at less than 10 per cent last night. On betting exchanges, he began the day at 7/2, but by the early hours of today had slipped to 13/2.
Like many recent surveys, yesterday’s most detailed poll, for the website Politico, put the national race at a tie, with each candidate securing 47 per cent of the vote. But in the ten States considered most “in-play,” the firm’s data showed Mr Romney behind by a clear margin of 43 to 49 per cent.
That’s a wide margin. But Republican strategists say Democrats have been over-sampled by polling organisations, and argue that long queues at polling stations yesterday would dissuade flakier Democrats from voting.
Asked what he’d like Americans to consider as they stood at the ballot box, Mr Romney said: “They should ask themselves: do you want four more years like the last four? Or do you want real change?”
In a final pitch for the undecided, Mr Romney spent the afternoon on an impromptu trip to Ohio, which carries 18 Electoral College votes, and Pennsylvania, which carries 20, but has, until recent days, been considered a safe Democratic “hold”.
“I can't imagine an election being won or lost by, let's say, a few hundred votes and you spent your day sitting around," Romney told another radio station, WRVA. "I mean, you'd say to yourself: 'Holy cow, why didn't I keep working?'
Democrats, for their part, equated Romney’s final day agenda to a “Hail Mary” pass, thrown during the final seconds of an American Football game by a side which is trailing, and needs to score a fluke touchdown. “They’re throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it will stick,” said Obama strategist David Plouffe when asked about the afternoon tour.
Team Obama was rattled enough, however, to send Vice President Joe Biden to Cleveland to ensure their rival didn’t steal all of the limelight. His jet, Air Force Two, landed at the local airport just after Romney’s, and immediately before that of Republican running mate Paul Ryan, causing awkward scenes on the tarmac.
For all the outward cheerfulness, there are signs of a post-mortem under way on the Republican side, with some commentators seeking to blame Hurricane Sandy, along with the ensuing praise levelled at President Obama by New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, for their candidate’s late drift in the polls.
Other Republicans have complained about what they believe is the mainstream media’s left-wing bias. Mr Romney himself touched on that topic during a morning radio interview. “I think we’re naive if we think the press is just an impartial observer,” he said.
“As a challenger, and someone who isn’t as well known, I’ve suffered a good deal more scrutiny and scepticism than somebody who’s as well known as [Obama] is. But I don’t worry about that, I don’t complain about that.”
Late on Monday, there had been a sense of stoicism in the air at Mr Romney’s last major rally, at an ice hockey arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. The swing state is where his campaign had been officially launched – over bowls of Ann’s home-made chilli – at a small farm 18 months ago.
The 10,000-strong crowd’s enthusiasm was stoked with the help of an energetic performance by the musician Kid Rock, who stood on a piano decorated with a sticker saying “Bad Ass” to perform “Born Free”, the Romney-Ryan campaign’s anthem.