Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney rallies supporters at the… (Emmanual Dunand, AFP/Getty…)
DUBUQUE, Iowa — Soaring music filled the air and a gleaming white plane with "Believe in America" painted along its length — and a stylized "R" on its tail — rolled into view of more than 1,000 people gathered in an airplane hangar.
The crowd roared as Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, left the plane, and the Republican nominee told them that he could feel growing momentum as the campaign drew to a close.
"Now I know that across America people have watched as our campaign has grown into a movement. It's not just the size of the crowds — although this is pretty darn impressive, I've got to tell you," he said, surveying his fans. "It's also the energy and the passion, the recognition that we share a deep conviction about the future of this country. I feel a great obligation to strive to feel more worthy of your support and your help. And I want to campaign as I would govern and speak for the aspirations of all Americans."
It was the second rally of a four-event, three-state sprint that covered more than 2,000 miles, among the most vigorous campaigning Romney has done in his contest with President Obama. He began the day with a hint of nostalgia in two states that sowed his path to the nomination.
Romney owns a summer home in New Hampshire, and his resounding win in the first-in-the-nation primary state helped cement his status as the GOP front-runner. He then headed to Iowa, where his campaign floundered four years ago but exceeded expectations this year. Then it was off to two stops in Colorado, where he and President Obama are about even in the polls.
Romney delivered an abbreviated version of his closing argument at each stop, saying Obama had failed to keep campaign promises, highlighting his own resume as the master of the "turnaround," and offering a sunny vision of the nation's future if he is elected. He seized on a comment Obama made Friday night about voting to buttress his argument.
"Yesterday the president said something you may have heard by now that I think surprised a lot of people. Speaking to an audience, he said, you know, 'voting is the best revenge,'" Romney told more than 1,000 people on a tarmac in Newington, N.H. "Vote for revenge? Let me tell you what I'd like to tell you: Vote for love of country. It is time we lead America to a better place."
The dust-up is over a comment Obama made while stumping in Springfield, Ohio. When the president mentioned Romney's name, the crowd booed.
"No, no, no — don't boo, vote," Obama responded. "Vote. Voting is the best revenge."
That chance will come Tuesday, and as Romney, his wife and his aides passed more than six hours on the plane Saturday, there was a palpable mix of sentimentality that the campaign was winding down and relief that what had turned into a grueling, bitter race would soon be over.
"We've journeyed far and wide in this campaign for America's future. And now we're almost home. One final push — we're going to be there," Romney told thousands in a Colorado Springs airplane hangar. "Many long days, short nights. We're that close right now. The door to a brighter future is there. It's open for us; it's waiting for us. We need your help. I need your work, I need your phone calls, I need your vote. Walk with me. We can get this done together."
In Iowa, Ann Romney reminisced about the time the couple had spent in the state, where party caucuses are the first presidential nominating contest in the nation.
"You all know that Iowa holds a very special place in our heart. We've been in so many of your communities and we have come to love this state and love this people," she said. "We also know why you're here today is because you love America."
Earlier, on the plane, as she passed out pumpkin whoopie pies to the press corps, she expressed relief that the campaign was drawing to a close.
"Three more days," she said. "It's been long. It's been a long road."
There were new additions to the flight manifest on Saturday — half a dozen top aides who escaped the frenzy of Romney's Boston headquarters to spend the final days with him on the road. Some have been with him for a decade, advising him as he served as governor of Massachusetts, made his failed presidential bid four years ago and secured the Republican nomination this time around.
"These are my best friends," said longtime confidant Beth Myers. Asked what would happen if Romney lost on Tuesday, she said, "These will still be my best friends."
For many months, Romney has spent his flights working studiously on his iPad: scrolling through policy briefings, revising his speeches and jotting his thoughts in a campaign journal. But those tasks are mostly complete. On Saturday, he perched on an armrest near his wife munching a cookie from their favorite Belmont, Mass., bakery.