PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — Mitt Romney isn’t doing anything to spoil his good mood.
“What a beautiful day,” he said at a rally on the alumni green at Shawnee State University here in the state’s conservative south. “What a wonderful opportunity to be in Shawnee State.”
Everything seems like an opportunity these days for Romney. After waking to a Columbus Dispatch front page heralding “Romney on the rise in Ohio,” he huddled with his senior advisers and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) for another session of debate prep, hoping to repeat the Denver performance that injected life into his candidacy. In Portsmouth, he tilted his head and smiled as the crowd chanted “Romney, Romney, Romney.” Wearing a crisp white shirt and blue tie, he held a microphone in front of his stomach with his left hand and jabbed the air with his right index finger.
“We had a debate about a week ago and I enjoyed that a great deal,” he said.
Romney, apparently identifying the debates as his best forum for building enthusiasm for his candidacy, is not doing anything adventurous on the stump.
He offered standard zingers, saying that if President Obama believes he can change Washington from the outside, “we’re going to give him that change on November 6th.” He characterized Obama as a food stamp president, adding more people to the rolls than live in the entire state of Ohio. He depicted two campaigns moving in opposite directions. Obama’s campaign was getting smaller and smaller, he said (“At times like this, what is he talking about? Saving Big Bird?), while his drew bigger and bigger crowds.
The Portsmouth crowd appeared content with Romney’s vow to revoke Obamacare and didn’t seem to expect more from him than his promise to “replace it with real reforms.” He added now-familiar talk about Obama’s Medicare plan (“I see some seniors shaking their heads”) and a U.S. military weakened by “hundreds of billions of dollars” worth of Obama administration cuts.
After outlining, in broad strokes, his plan to rescue the country (more energy sources, freer markets – good; Chinese currency manipulation, Greece-style debt – bad), Romney told some patriotic anecdotes, including an apparent inside joke/shout out to Boy Scouts, (“I’ll ask the Eagles to raise their hand, but I’ll do that later.”) He closed by saying he felt “confident” and “inspired.”
Before he arrived, taking the stage to Joel Schumacher-style military music, some local officials talked about the steady narrowing of the polls in the state and urged supporters to vote early so the campaign could “bank your votes” and focus on undecided voters.
Portman, fresh from prepping Romney in debate practice back in Columbus that morning, took the stage at 2 p.m. with sleeves rolled up and picked up that theme. “Folks, we need you to vote early,” he said, adding, “We need your vote, and we need it now.”
He then depicted Obama as a serial promise-breaker, not just on the debt and jobs, but also on loan guarantees for local industries.
Angela Jurado, a 50-year-old doula, took it all in from the back of the crowd, where she waved a small American flag. She said that the town was once renowned for manufacturing shoes, but now made only shoelaces. “There is no industry, no place to work,” she said. “People here are angry.”
It was to that anger that she attributed Romney’s inability, thus far, to entirely erase the president's lead in this most critical of states. “Obama and Biden, they both get angry when they talk,” she said. “And so they get the ear of people here who are angry.”