MANCHESTER, N.H. – Mitt Romney returned to New Hampshire late Monday night for his final campaign rally before the polls opened in the 2012 general election.
The former Massachusetts governor and his wife, Ann, were overwhelmed with emotion as they received a minutes-long standing ovation from thousands at the Verizon Wireless Arena, in the population center of the state that has unique personal and political meaning to the Romney family.
“This is a special moment for Ann and me, because this is where our campaign began,” Romney said. “And then your primary vote put me on the path to win the Republican nomination. And tomorrow, your votes and your work right here in New Hampshire will help me become the next president of the United States.”
The rally was to have been the final one for Romney, but as the crowd was being warmed up by singer Kid Rock, who sings the campaign’s “Born Free” anthem, the staff announced he would make one more visit to Ohio and Pennsylvania today after he votes in his hometown of Belmont, Mass.
Romney implored his audience to join him in reaching out to any remaining undecided voters.
“Ask them to look behind the speeches and all the attacks and all the ads and look to the record,” he said, his voice hoarse after speaking in three other states earlier in the day. “Because talk is cheap, but a record is real, and it’s earned with effort.”
He accused President Obama of a lack of leadership, and for blaming his administration’s problems on issues he inherited from the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Romney brought down the house when he added moments later: “You see, I’m not just going to take office on Jan. 20. I’m going to take responsibility for that office, as well.”
Saying repeatedly the country was one day from a fresh beginning, Romney urged voters to have faith in management skills he has honed at Bain Capital, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, and as governor of Massachusetts.
“The only thing that stands between us and some of the best years we’ve ever imagined is a lack of leadership, and that’s why we have elections,” he said. “Tomorrow is a moment to look into the future.”
The rally closed a circle for Romney that opened on June 2, 2011, when he delivered a speech at a farm in Stratham, N.H., that kicked off his 2012 candidacy.
While New Hampshire is not only the state that delivered him his first election win – a victory in the New Hampshire primary after he suffered a belated, narrow loss in the Iowa caucuses – it also is a battleground state whose four electoral votes could be pivotal to an election win.
In addition, Romney has a summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee and served as governor just across the state’s southern border.
New Hampshire also kicked off the election voting less than a half-hour after Romney finished speaking, when residents of tiny Dixville Notch cast their ballots at midnight. The vote ended tied 5-5 for Romney and Obama, evidence of the close election polls forecast.
Those connections helped contribute to a line of supporters that encircled the arena. Spotlights scanned the sky to call attention to the occasion.
Kevin Generous, 55, of Sprague, Ct., drove 2 ½ hours to join the masses at the rally.
“I think there’s a lot of frustrated people who what to see change, and they’re willing to come out to be part of what they think will be history,” the college professor said.
Generous conceded that Romney wasn’t his first choice for the GOP’s presidential nominee, but he has developed an affection for him.
“I think he’s a much better candidate,” said Generous. “The more I saw of him, the more impressed I was with him.”Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.