In Florida, a man handed the Republican nominee six blue buttons from George Romney’s 1968 presidential campaign that he had been holding on to for years in a plastic bag. The buttons were a reminder to Romney — the family’s youngest child, whose birth was considered a miracle by his parents — that he carries the extraordinary expectations of a pioneering American family.
On a breakneck final full day of campaigning that was to take him from Florida to Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire, and back home to Belmont, Mass., well after midnight, Romney savored the fact that on his long and at times tortured political journey he had reached an important milestone: People were packing aircraft hangars and basketball arenas screaming his name.
“I am looking around to see if we have the Beatles here or something to have brought you,” Romney told 8,500 screaming fans in Fairfax County at George Mason University’s Patriot Center. An estimated 3,000 more listened outside.
When Romney turned the microphone over to his wife, Ann, her mind drifted to life in the White House, just 20 miles away.
“Are we going to be neighbors soon?” she asked the crowd.
The answer to that question lies less in what Romney said or did Monday and more in the race he ran and the political machine he built over the past two years. This much, his advisers knew. Many of them decamped from the campaign’s Boston headquarters to fly around the swing states with the candidate.
In the charter jet’s first-class cabin, they formed a protective cocoon around Romney. They thumbed through photos from the campaign trail, told stories about when they all first met or their favorite movies. Romney’s favorite is “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” and he spent one flight reciting lines from memory. Together, they snacked on Greek yogurt and bagels with lox, and they took in the fact that everything Monday would be Romney’s last as a candidate — his last visit to Florida, his last rally in Northern Virginia, his last trek to New Hampshire.
On what amounted to an 18-hour day, a sense of giddy relief enveloped Romney’s traveling entourage.
In Sanford, Fla., at Romney’s first of five rallies, the crowd interrupted the candidate to chant, “One more day! One more day! One more day!” Romney looked down at Garrett Jackson, his 26-year-old personal aide. Jackson, who has been at Romney’s side almost every day for two years, was standing below the stage at his feet. They locked eyes and smiled at each other.