FAIRFAX — Mitt Romney struck a valedictory note Monday as he rallied supporters at back-to-back events in the crucial state of Virginia — but with two more election-eve rallies to go, in addition to two newly added Election Day events in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the GOP presidential nominee still had miles to go before his 17-month campaign journey ends.
Appearing onstage with his wife, Ann, and speaking before an audience of 8,500 people inside George Mason University’s Patriot Center here, Romney told supporters that “your voices and your energy and your passion are being heard all over the nation.”
“If anyone wants to know where the energy is, if anyone out there that’s following American politics wants to know where the energy is, just come right here in this room and you’ll see it,” he said to a roar from the crowd.
Joking at the size of the audience, he quipped, “I am looking around to see if we have the Beatles here or something to have brought you, but it looks like you came just for the campaign, and I appreciate it.”
Afterward, in separate remarks to an estimated 3,000 people waiting outside in the late-afternoon chill, Romney noted that he was heading later Monday to Columbus, Ohio, and Manchester, N.H. But he told the crowd, “Virginia, you’re gonna put us over the line.”
Ann Romney, who has appeared onstage with her husband at several events during the final campaign stretch, received a burst of applause from the crowd inside the venue when she asked, “Are we going to be neighbors soon?”
“It’s so exciting to walk into a room like this and get greeted like that,” she said.
Ahead of the George Mason event, Romney addressed a crowd of several thousand at an airport in Lynchburg, Va.; he began his 18-hour day with a rally at another airport outside Orlando.
At both events, new campaign signs bearing the words “Vote for Love of Country” were on display, a dig at President Obama’s recent quip that the best “revenge” for supporters is to cast a ballot Tuesday.
Monday night’s rally at a hangar at the Port Columbus International Airport drew 10,000 people, according to the fire marshal. Romney made a dramatic entrance: his campaign jet rolled into the hangar while Aaron Copland’s “Theme for the Common Man” played. Then, the soundtrack changed to Kid Rock’s “Born Free” as Romney and his wife, Ann, took the stage.
Among the signs held by supporters in the audience was one hand-painted poster reading, “Media, Connect the Dots: Benghazi Attack.”
The former Massachusetts governor is making a furious final sprint through the electoral battlegrounds. His schedule originally said he would finish the campaign with an appearance in the battleground state of New Hampshire, where Romney owns a vacation home and where he launched his candidacy on a sunny Thursday in June 2011.
But with less than 24 hours to go until the polls are open on Election Day, campaign officials said Romney’s expected final stop — a late-night homecoming rally in Manchester headlined by Romney and his wife as well as musician Kid Rock — would not be the last one after all.
Romney is now set to make a final swing-state trip Tuesday to Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
The last-minute decision is in keeping with a campaign that has continually pushed to find new openings and has edged up relentlessly in the polls, with Romney essentially deadlocked with Obama over the past two weeks in most nationwide surveys.
Romney bested challengers Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and a host of others from his party’s conservative wing in large part by making the case that he was the candidate with the strongest résuméand the best organization to take on Obama.
On Tuesday night, the polls will tell whether Romney’s assessment was correct.
The campaign has seen its share of ups and downs since the party conventions. There was the release of a hidden video of the candidate’s “47 percent” remarks at a closed-door fundraiser, a development that at the time appeared to spell doom for the campaign; the GOP nominee’s triumph over Obama in the first presidential debate, a moment that — if Romney wins — is likely to be viewed as a turning point for his candidacy; and Romney’s scathing criticism of Obama’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya, an episode that has since energized the conservative grass roots.
But amid the twists and turns, what has been most striking along the Romney trail in recent weeks has been the shift in the candidate’s message itself.
At the rally in Florida — a state that remains close but where Romney appears to have gained the upper hand — the candidate was introduced by an all-star roster of state GOP figures past and present, including former senator Mel Martinez, former governor Jeb Bush, Senate nominee Connie Mack and Rep. John L. Mica.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is struggling in the polls and who has rarely appeared at events for the GOP ticket, was also among those taking the stage before Romney.
The campaign played Romney’s biographical video from the GOP convention, something it has done in recent weeks but did not do for much of the early fall. And Romney struck the optimistic tone that has marked his campaign over the past month as he told the roaring crowd of supporters that a “better tomorrow” that awaits them after Tuesday.
The enthusiasm of the crowd — which chanted “45! 45!” as the would-be 45th president delivered his remarks — appeared to energize Romney. He took a detour from his prepared statement and delivered an extended riff on what that post-Obama future might look like.
“Tomorrow, we begin a new tomorrow,” Romney said. “Tomorrow, we begin a better tomorrow. This nation is going to begin to change for the better tomorrow. . . . We can begin a better tomorrow tomorrow, and with the help of the people in Florida, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
Tomorrow was on the minds of Romney’s traveling press corps, as well. They peppered press secretary Rick Gorka with questions aboard the campaign jet Monday morning about whether Romney was going to Ohio on Tuesday, how Romney was feeling and even what Romney planned to eat on the final day of the campaign.
To the last query, Gorka offered a deadpan answer that nonetheless served as an apt reminder for a press corps that has spent the past year and a half scrambling to chronicle the candidate’s every move:
“He’s going to live beyond Tuesday.”
Philip Rucker contributed to this story.