DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — The TV ads are made. The campaign strategy is set, the closing speech written and delivered. Now, nearly six years spent running for president, all Mitt Romney can do is sprint to the finish.
After months of a much slower pace, the Republican nominee this weekend finally set out on a frenzied, all-out campaign push to win over voters in eight of the battleground states that will decide who becomes president. In the campaign's last four days, Romney will fly more than 15,000 miles, stopping in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.
There is nothing else left to do.
"We've had some long days and some short nights, and we are almost there," Romney told a crowd of thousands in a cavernous hangar in Dubuque, Iowa, where he flew in for a tarmac rally before jetting to Colorado for two more events. "The door is open, and we're going to walk through it," he said.
The four events planned for Saturday — with four more on Sunday — represent a sharp uptick in Romney's schedule. Throughout the fall, he would sometimes hold just one campaign event per day — or none at all.
Watching from the side of the rally in Dubuque were more than a dozen of Romney's closest aides and advisers. Most flew to Ohio Friday night for a massive weekend kickoff rally that drew more than 20,000 people, the largest campaign event Romney's had so far. They will spend the weekend away from the Boston headquarters, joining their candidate on the logo-plastered airplane that's been his home away from home since August.
"At this stage, there aren't any bluffs," said Stuart Stevens, Romney's top strategist and constant companion on the campaign trail. He was watching the third speech of the day, in Colorado Springs, where enormous hangar doors opened to reveal a giant American flag. "It's all out there."
All told, they exude cautious confidence and weary nostalgia. They describe Romney's mood as light and cheerful, and say that the group — some of whom have been working for him for more than a decade — are sharing jokes and trading memories.
"Three more days. I can't believe it," said Beth Myers, who was Romney's chief of staff in Massachusetts and led the search for running mate Paul Ryan. Romney himself on Friday used his own iPhone to film staffers asleep in seats topped with red felt covers embroidered with each person's name, recording the scene for posterity.
The Romneys have been on the campaign trail, on and off, since his June 2011 announcement that he was running for president. He hit the road full time beginning in December, with bus tours through New Hampshire and Iowa ahead of their early primary contests. South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Colorado followed, one by one; rival Rick Santorum's surge meant he had to keep going through Michigan, Ohio and Illinois — and even to Puerto Rico, where fireworks capped a raucous rally-turned-party that went on hours longer than planned.
The Secret Service arrived after he won Florida, their presence growing ever more conspicuous as the months wore on. The motorcades grew from just a few cars to more than a dozen, with fleets of cops on motorcycles racing alongside
On the flights, Romney usually stays sequestered in the first class cabin — his seat cover is embroidered with his nickname, "The Gov." He chats with aides, eats peanut butter and honey sandwiches or looks at new TV ads on his iPad. He snacks on pita chips, which the campaign keeps stored in the overhead bins near his seat.
His wife, Ann Romney, sometimes brings along her homemade Welsh cakes or other treats, handing them out to the reporters and Secret Service who have seats in the back of the plane.
She ventured back on Saturday morning, wearing a bright pink blazer and purple lady bug brooch. She wouldn't say how her husband was feeling .
"It's been a long road," she said.
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