Whatever the obstacles in Ohio, Romney — known for his occasionally wooden demeanor on the campaign trail — has looked in recent days as if he is enjoying himself. On Monday, after finishing a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, he broke with the campaign’s lockstep schedule and turned his motorcade around for an unplanned stop to greet hundreds of children lined up and waving outside Fairfield Elementary School. Joined by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), he grinned and laughed as the children began running toward them.
Romney was still smiling minutes later as he brought two oversize McDonald’s bags with him on a foray to the back of his campaign plane, handing out food to reporters. “Quarter-pounder? Fries? Chicken sandwich?” he called out.
Romney aides made clear Tuesday that they will not rest in a race that has swung back and forth.
“This is a campaign that has never gotten too high when things are good and too low when things are bad,’’ said Kevin Madden, a senior Romney adviser. “The governor, in particular, remains very focused on the task at hand, which is making sure he talks directly to those voters who haven’t made up their mind yet.
. . . I think if he continues to do that, we’re going to be well positioned in this race.’’
Romney’s bounce in the polls confirms some things that the campaign’s research was showing even before the debate — chiefly, that voters want to hear more directly from the candidate himself. That is why, for instance, the campaign has released its first television ads in which Romney speaks directly to the camera.
Campaign strategists are taking other steps, as well, to build on their momentum. They are retooling Romney’s stump speech so it has fewer red-meat lines that aim to stir up conservative partisans who attend rallies and more points that are intended to appeal to persuadable voters who will be seeing and reading snippets from the speech in news coverage.
“We want to capitalize on what we saw in the debate, what worked in the debate — and it has the added benefit of being who he is,” said Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who has joined the campaign to bring more clarity to its message.
Other new measures include a revival of the tele-town hall meetings in which the campaign robo-dials thousands of supporters in a swing state and Romney holds a town hall meeting via conference call. Romney did such conference calls often during the Republican primaries and has very recently begun doing them again, including sessions with Virginia and Colorado voters in the past few days while he was in other states.
Romney is also emphasizing a recent campaign strategy to clearly spell out what he would do as president, as he did when he introduced his vision for a “vibrant rural America” at a campaign stop Tuesday outside Des Moines.
At the rally, held in an open soybean field next to a giant grain silo, some of the 1,200 people in attendance praised Romney’s debate performance and said they weren’t surprised by his recent momentum.
“There was no comparison in that debate, it was like night and day,’’ said Sally Cole, 55, who drove 3½ hours from her home in New Hampton, Iowa, to see the Republican nominee. “Obama seemed annoyed, disgusted, preoccupied and befuddled. Romney struck me as respectful, assertive and informed.’’
Obama aides continue to say that they have always expected a tight race and have tried to run every day as if they are five points down. In that sense, the campaign has remained pretty much like its candidate: outwardly placid and businesslike, no matter the turbulence underneath.
At the Ohio State rally Tuesday, the president urged Ohioans to reject a return to the Republican economic policies that he said caused the financial crisis.
“We love you,” a voice rang out.
“I love you back, but I need you to vote,” Obama said.
Philip Rucker in Boston, Karen Tumulty in Washington and Rosalind S. Helderman in Ohio contributed to this report.