Romney makes final campaign sprint

 

Sanford, Florida

No longer does Mitt Romney tout himself as "severely conservative," as he did last winter and into the spring. And no longer does Romney hail his running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, as first and foremost a conservative icon.

Rather, the GOP challenger to President Barack Obama has pitched himself and his vice-presidential pick as pragmatists willing and eager to work across the aisle on righting the economy, rising above the gridlock in Washington by being "happy," as Romney told a crowd at a hangar in this town near Orlando on Monday morning, "to sit down and discuss this with anyone who'd like to."

The former Massachusetts governor is making a furious final sprint through the electoral battlegrounds Monday, with five events in four states, including all-important Florida, Virginia and Ohio. The schedule originally said he would finish the campaign with an appearance in the battleground state of New Hampshire, where Romney owns a vacation home and where he launched his candidacy on a sunny Thursday in June 2011.

But with less than 24 hours to go until the polls are open on Election Day, campaign officials said Romney's expected final stop — a late-night homecoming rally in Manchester, N.H., headlined by Romney and his wife, Ann, as well as musician Kid Rock — would not be the last one after all.

Romney is now set to make a final swing state trip on Tuesday to Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The last-minute decision is in keeping with a campaign that has continually pushed to find new openings and has edged up relentlessly in the polls, with Romney essentially deadlocked with Obama over the past two weeks in most nationwide surveys.

Romney bested challengers Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and a host of others from his party's conservative wing in large part by making the case that he was the candidate with the strongest resume and the best organization to take on Obama.

On Tuesday night, the polls will tell whether Romney's assessment was correct.

The campaign has seen its share of ups and downs since the party conventions. There was the release of a hidden video of the candidate's "47 percent" remarks at a closed-door fundraiser, a development that at the time appeared to spell doom for the campaign; the GOP nominee's triumph over Obama in the first presidential debate, a moment that — if Romney wins — is likely to be viewed as a turning point for his candidacy; and Romney's scathing criticism of Obama's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya, an episode that has since energized the conservative grass-roots.

But amid the twists and turns, what has been most striking along the Romney trail in recent weeks has been the shift in the candidate's message itself.

At the rally in Florida — a state that remains close but where Romney appears to have gained the upper hand — the candidate was introduced by an all-star roster of state GOP figures past and present, including former senator Mel Martinez, former governor Jeb Bush, Senate nominee Connie Mack and Rep. John L. Mica.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is struggling in the polls and who has rarely appeared at events for the GOP ticket, was also among those taking the stage before Romney.

The campaign played Romney's biographical video from the GOP convention, something it has done in recent weeks but failed to do for much of the early fall. And Romney struck the optimistic tone that has marked his campaign over the past month as he told the roaring crowd of supporters that a "better tomorrow" that awaits them after Nov. 6.

The enthusiasm of the crowd — which chanted "45! 45!" as the would-be 45th president delivered his remarks — appeared to energize Romney. He took a detour from his prepared statement and delivered an extended riff on what that post-Obama future might look like.

"Tomorrow, we begin a new tomorrow," Romney said. "Tomorrow, we begin a better tomorrow. This nation is going to begin to change for the better tomorrow. . . . We can begin a better tomorrow tomorrow, and with the help of the people in Florida, that's exactly what's going to happen."

Tomorrow was on the minds of Romney's traveling press corps, as well. They peppered press secretary Rick Gorka with questions aboard the campaign jet Monday morning about whether Romney was going to Ohio on Tuesday, how Romney was feeling and even what Romney planned to eat on the final day of the campaign.

To the last query, Gorka offered a deadpan answer that nonetheless served as an apt reminder for a press corps that has spent the past year and a half scrambling to chronicle the candidate's every move:

"He's going to live beyond Tuesday."

- - -

Washington Post staff writer Philip Rucker also contributed to this story.

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