BOSTON — Mitt Romney says he doesn't get nervous on primary nights. He doesn't have a lucky tie. And the best part about Super Tuesday, he and his wife said before the results came in, was heading back to Boston and eating dinner with one of their five sons.
"Oh, boy, we're headed home," Romney said as he stood in the aisle of the campaign charter plane that has carried him to Ohio, Idaho, Washington state and back to Ohio in the past week alone.
Romney made the comments as he and his wife, Ann, made a rare visit to the national press corps traveling on his plane as it waited on the tarmac to take him to Belmont, Mass., where they raised their children and have a house.
It was hours before returns started coming in from critical Ohio, where the race was too close to call until late in the night – and Romney advisers were clearly nervous about the results, repeatedly asking for updates and leaving the celebration in a Boston hotel ballroom almost immediately after the candidate wrapped up his speech.
"I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to get this nomination," Romney told the hometown crowd Tuesday night, well before results in critical Ohio were clear.
He'd been on the road for two straight months, having last slept here on Jan. 6, right before New Hampshire's primary four days later. Massachusetts voted Tuesday along with nine other states that, together, handed him a significant number of delegates and set him on the path to becoming the GOP nominee.
"It's been a long road getting to Super Tuesday, let me – let me be honest," he told the cheering crowd in Boston.
Despite his strong campaign organization and financial advantage, the results Tuesday night promised a long road still ahead. Votes were still being tallied late into the night, and rival Rick Santorum notched victories in Tennessee, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
"Tomorrow, we wake up and we start again. And the next day, we'll do the same," Romney said. "And so we'll go, day by day, step by step, door by door, heart to heart. There will be good days. There will be bad days. Always long hours, never enough time to get everything done."
For 25 minutes earlier in the day, the Romneys chatted casually with reporters, a remarkable moment for a campaign that until now has held the national media at arm's length. The moment was part of a tentative transition as Romney looks ahead from his role as the nominal frontrunner in the GOP nomination fight to a general election against President Barack Obama.
On most days, Romney gets on and off the front of the plane as reporters climb on and off the back, taking photographs from many rows behind. He has held question-and-answer sessions with the press corps on the plane, and sometimes hands out lunch or snacks. But not often.
Now, the candidate – as well as his advisers – are making a clear push to build a stronger relationship with the media and recover from a series of comments by Romney that made the wealthy former Massachusetts governor seem out of touch.
These days, the campaign is working to show the human side of a candidate who aides say is warm, funny and down-to-earth in private – and provide a little bit of context to go with the scrutiny that's set to get much more intense as Romney moves toward becoming the GOP nominee.
To that end, the chat session at the back of the plane was followed by a formal press conference outside a Massachusetts polling place.
"There will always be in the world of media people who will find clip sentences to try and say something that you didn't mean to say," Romney told a bank of cameras there. "That's just the nature of the process."
No cameras were permitted by the campaign staff to film Romney on the plane, and reporters were prohibited from reporting much of what he said as a condition for getting access to him – as is often standard during presidential campaigns. The difference was plain: He told personal stories, spoke more slowly and cracked easy jokes when he knew it wouldn't be used in stories.
At his news conference, answers were quick.
He avoided specifics, saying he wanted to win in Massachusetts, his home state, but offered no predictions about states where the contests were closer. He refused to comment again on Rush Limbaugh's crude criticism of a Georgetown law student – on Friday Romney had called the remarks "not the language I would have used" – saying only that he planned to focus his campaign on jobs and the economy.
"I think we'll pick up a lot of delegates," was all Romney would say about Tuesday night. "This is a process of gathering enough delegates to become the nominee, and I think we're on the track to have that happen."