Romney Is Upbeat, but Math Is the Same - New York Times
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mitt Romney is savoring the energy surrounding his candidacy, talking with rising confidence about his ability to overtake President Obama in the closing days of the race.
He dwells far less on the biggest obstacle facing his campaign: the Electoral College.
A decade after taking the first steps in his quest to win the White House, Mr. Romney can finally see the presidency within his grasp, his advisers say. To many Republicans, he sounds more presidential than at any other moment of his campaign, a point that was not lost on his audience Wednesday in Nevada, when he declared: “If I’m elected — no, when I’m elected.”
But the swelling crowds and the fresh optimism among his supporters do not minimize the challenge confronting him across a wide landscape of battleground states, where Mr. Romney must win a series of individual statewide races, rather than a national contest. His room for error is so slight, one adviser said, the mathematics could be more daunting than the politics.
The enthusiasm gathering around Mr. Romney came into view on Wednesday as he traveled through Colorado, Nevada and Iowa, appearing before thousands of supporters as he fought to keep alive the sense that he had gained stature and credibility as an alternative to Mr. Obama at the debates and was on an upward trajectory.
Cultivating the image that he is a winner, his aides say, could be Mr. Romney’s best strategy for actually winning.
“I’m optimistic, I’m optimistic,” Mr. Romney told supporters Wednesday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, repeating the word throughout his rally. “Not just about winning — we are going to win, by the way, we’re going to do that. I’m more optimistic about the future for America.”
If that confidence is welcomed by Mr. Romney’s supporters, who far outnumber the crowds at most Republican rallies four years ago at this point, the mood is more guarded back at his headquarters in Boston, where the campaign is trying “not to get caught up in the moment,” in the words of one aide.
The Romney team is mindful that the new enthusiasm has not opened any new paths to winning 270 electoral votes. The campaign continues to keep an eye on trying to make a late run at Pennsylvania, advisers said, but it remains more of a last-ditch option.
The most efficient way for Mr. Romney to win still rests on the 18 electoral votes of Ohio, where he arrived Wednesday evening for a two-day visit that will take him to nearly every corner of the state. His fight to win Ohio — the highest priority of both campaigns this week — resembles more of a governor’s race than a presidential campaign.
“It’s a game of inches in Ohio,” said Scott Jennings, the Ohio campaign manager for Mr. Romney. “We’re fighting for every inch of ground.”
The Republican and Democratic tickets have spent more time in Ohio than in any other state this month, with Mr. Obama scheduled to arrive in Cleveland on Thursday after having visited Dayton only two days earlier. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. finished a three-day swing on Wednesday and Representative Paul D. Ryan is opening a two-day tour on Saturday.
A Time Magazine poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Obama with a five-point edge over Mr. Romney in Ohio, 49 percent to 44 percent, which is within the margin of sampling error. Party strategists on both sides say the race appears to be remarkably close, but two senior Republican officials here said that they believed Mr. Obama had a slight advantage and that they worried that Mr. Romney’s gains had leveled off.
Advisers to Mr. Romney argue that they can win the election without winning Ohio, but it means that the campaign must perform nearly flawlessly in every other battleground. One aide referred to Ohio as “still the big nut to crack,” but a victory would probably mean that Mr. Obama’s Midwestern firewall of Iowa and Wisconsin also was highly vulnerable.
While Mr. Obama can win re-election by carrying Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin, in addition to holding the other Democratic-leaning states across the country, Mr. Romney must capture more states. Even if he wins Ohio, Mr. Romney still must win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia — and one more state.
The outcome, advisers to both candidates said, could hinge to a large degree on the performance of both candidates over the next 12 days. At the debates, Mr. Romney’s strong showing exceeded expectations of even many of his supporters. His campaigning has been far more uneven throughout the year, and aides said they were bracing for the possibility of a gaffe.
But projecting confidence — and reminding voters of the debates — is now a central piece of Mr. Romney’s strategy. He told supporters on Wednesday that the Obama campaign was “slipping and shrinking,” a phrase that his aides say he intends to carry into Ohio.
“I’m not sure whether you’ve been watching TV, but we’ve had a number of debates lately. Have you noticed that?” Mr. Romney said, speaking to a crowd in Reno. “They have really propelled our campaign. We’re seeing that across the country.”
While both campaigns are still advertising in nine battleground states, advisers to both sides say that the most competitive fight is now taking place in seven: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. A huge get-out-the-vote effort is under way in all states, with only a sliver of undecided voters remaining.
Stuart Stevens, a senior strategist for Mr. Romney, said the most effective way to harness the momentum gained over the last month was to keep talking about the future — beyond Election Day.
“It’s a status quo vs. a change argument,” Mr. Stevens said. “We feel very good about the predicate that’s been laid. People have heard their choices.”
Jeff Zeleny reported from Columbus, Ohio, and Ashley Parker from Reno, Nev.