WEST CHESTER, Ohio -- It's been a long, hard-fought 18 months since Mitt Romney announced his candidacy for president. In that time, the Republican presidential nominee appears to have been through it all: He survived an overwhelmingly negative GOP primary season, clinched the nomination of a party that was reluctant to have him, and, in the last month, found his way back into the running after it looked as though President Barack Obama may coast to a second term.
And while delivering his closing argument in Wisconsin and Ohio on Friday, Romney appeared to thoroughly believe, with just four days remaining until Election Day, that he might be the next president of the United States.
Exactly one week ago, Romney's campaign billed a speech he gave in Iowa as his closing argument, but the remarks were quickly forgotten as Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the East Coast, prompting both presidential candidates to momentarily suspend campaign events. And aside from adopting some of the “hope and change” themes of candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, the majority of Romney's speech in Ames was an extended repetition of his usual stump address, replete with disputed lines on job creation and health care.
On Friday, first in Milwaukee, then again in Etna and West Chester in Ohio, Romney was given an opportunity to recraft that closing argument into a final push, one that his campaign said it hoped would both mobilize his supporters and persuade the small faction of voters who might still be undecided. The end product was a lengthy speech that juxtaposed both Romney’s private and political resume with Obama's first-term record, and promised bipartisanship and "real change,” which Romney argued the president had failed to generate.
“Four years ago, candidate Obama promised to do so very much, but he has fallen so very short,” Romney said in Milwaukee. “He promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan — blaming, attacking, dividing.
“In part, it is because he has never led, never worked across the aisle, never truly understood how jobs are created in the economy,” Romney said, returning to one of his core talking points -- that Obama lacked understanding of the private sector necessary to rebuild the economy, while Romney would benefit from the experience he gained during his business career.
Throughout his appearances on Friday, Romney didn't simply ignore the obstructionism of House Republicans that has handicapped Obama's first-term agenda. Instead, the GOP nominee cast blame for the partisan gridlock on the president, and countered that a second term would be no different.
“You know that if the president is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress,” Romney said in Milwaukee. “He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.” In Etna, he offered a variation on the same idea, saying “the president just cannot work with Congress to get things done.”
That superficial reference to Obama's engagement with Congress over the debt ceiling didn’t account for the role played by House Republicans in bringing the country close to default, including House Speaker John Boehner’s refusal to accept a “grand bargain” that contained Republicans' request for major budget cuts.
And despite his claims to the contrary, Romney himself struggled to work with Democrats while governing Massachusetts -- issuing close to 800 vetoes during his tenure, nearly all overridden by the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
But none of those details mattered to Romney who, in a line he repeated throughout the day, offered his take on the choice facing voters. “President Obama promised change, but he could not deliver it,” Romney said. “I promise change, and I have a record of achieving it.” According to his campaign, Romney will carry that message through the campaign's remaining days.
“The most important parts of today's closing message are that, first, it's a message that resonates with all Americans and second, it's a message that Barack Obama could never deliver,” Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Romney, told The Huffington Post. “If, after the last four years that we have just witnessed, Obama were to stand before a crowd and say he wants to bring people together in Washington, even his most ardent supporters would break out laughing.”
In fact, Obama’s most ardent supporters were far from laughing as the president, making his own rounds in Ohio on Friday, continued to promise that his second term would hold the pathway to bipartisanship -- even applauding some Republicans who worked with him during his first term.
“When the other party has been with me to help middle-class families, I loved working with them,” Obama said in Springfield. “We cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses. Some of them cooperated. When we came together to repeal ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,’ there were some courageous Republican senators who stood up. I appreciate that.”
Obama encouraged votes for “anybody, of any party,” promising to work with like-minded politicians focused on moving the country forward. “If you really want to break the gridlock in Congress, then you better vote for leaders who feel the same way, whether they're Democrats or Republicans or independents,” Obama said. “You better work for folks who are putting people first, not the next election first.”
But Madden was confident that Romney’s last pitch would resonate with undecided voters. He said the goal at this stage was to rally supporters to the polls, including “their friends and neighbors who might be on the bubble.” Joining Romney in that goal on Friday were more than 100 Republican senators, congressmen and notable figures at his final rally of the day in West Chester, as well as Ann Romney, Paul Ryan and Janna Ryan, thus bringing the families of the GOP ticket together for the first time since the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
The event, which included speeches from top Romney surrogates Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), was to kick off the campaign's four-day tour across 11 states: Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Polling in all of those states, except for Florida, appears to favor Obama, according to The New York Times’ swing state tracker. National polls also continue to give Obama an edge in a neck-in-neck race. HuffPost Pollster's trend model, which takes into account all publicly available polling, estimates that Obama leads Romney 47.5 percent to 47 percent.
Romney’s campaign is undeterred. “We're just very, very happy with the level of enthusiasm out there right now for the governor,” Madden said. “We're in a great position to win with only four days to go to Election Day.”