Romney sprinting to finish in key states
DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) -- The TV ads are made. The campaign strategy is set, the closing speech written and delivered. Now, after nearly six years of running for president, all Mitt Romney can do is sprint to the finish.
After months of a much slower pace, the Republican nominee this weekend finally set out on a frenzied, all-out campaign push to win over voters in eight of the critical battleground states that will decide who becomes president. In the campaign's last four days, Romney will fly more than 15,000 miles, stopping in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.
"We've had some long days and some short nights, and we are almost there," Romney told a crowd of thousands in a cavernous hangar in Dubuque, Iowa, where he flew in for a tarmac rally before jetting on to Colorado for two more events. "The door is open, and we're going to walk through it."
The four events planned for Saturday -- with four more on Sunday -- represent a sharp uptick in Romney's schedule. Throughout the fall, he would sometimes hold just one campaign event per day -- or none at all.
Watching from the side of the rally in Dubuque were more than a dozen of Romney's closest aides and advisers. Most flew to Ohio Friday night for a massive weekend kickoff rally that drew more than 20,000 people, the largest campaign event Romney's had so far. They will spend the weekend away from the Boston headquarters, joining their candidate on the logo-plastered airplane that's been his home away from home since August.
As one staffer said as the tired group checked in to yet another chain hotel after midnight Friday night: there is nothing left to do.
As a group, they exude cautious confidence and weary nostalgia. They describe Romney's mood as light and cheerful, and say the group -- some of whom have been working for him for more than a decade -- are sharing jokes and trading memories.
"Three more days. I can't believe it," says Beth Myers, who was Romney's chief of staff in Massachusetts and led the search for running mate Paul Ryan. Romney himself on Friday used his own iPhone to film staffers asleep in seats topped with red felt covers embroidered with each person's name, recording the scene for posterity.
For Romney, Saturday began much like every other campaign day. He awoke at a nondescript Courtyard by Marriott hotel off of I-95 in New Hampshire, where there's a bare bones gym. In the mornings, he often rides the stationary bike or works out on the elliptical machine that Secret Service agents put in his room.
Leaving the hotel, he climbs into a black SUV, the agents holding the door open for him, and his motorcade rushes down closed highways to the nearest airport, where the MD-80 plane sits waiting. The "Believe in America" slogan that's plastered across it is often obscured by the predawn darkness.
The Romneys have been on the campaign trail, on and off, since his June 2011 announcement that he was running for president. He hit the road full time beginning in December, with bus tours through New Hampshire and Iowa ahead of their early primary contests. South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Colorado followed, one by one; rival Rick Santorum's surge meant he had to keep going through Michigan, Ohio and Illinois -- and even to Puerto Rico, where fireworks capped a raucous rally-turned-party that went on hours longer than planned.
The Secret Service arrived after he won Florida, their presence growing ever more conspicuous as the months wore on. The motorcades grew from just a few cars to more than a dozen, with fleets of cops on motorcycles racing alongside
On the flights, Romney usually stays sequestered in the first class cabin -- his seat cover is embroidered with his nickname, "The Gov." He chats with aides, eats peanut butter and honey sandwiches or looks at new TV ads on his iPad. He snacks on pita chips, which the campaign keeps stored in the overhead bins near his seat.
His wife, Ann Romney, sometimes brings along her homemade Welsh cakes or other treats, handing them out to the reporters and Secret Service who have seats in the back of the plane.
She ventured bak on Saturday morning, wearing a bright pink blazer and purple lady bug brooch. She wouldn't say how her husband was feeling .
"It's been a long road," she said.