Look to dusty Iowa cornfields, rain-soaked Virginia parks, the muddy fields of the Shelby County Fairgrounds, where a crowd of 9,500 – almost half of this western Ohio town – gathered among the barns and stables on a frigid October evening this week to glimpse the Republican presidential contender.
“Where else would we want to be?” said one of the shivering faithful, Judy Cartwright, a 71-year-old nurse from Sidney. “I want to see the next president of the United States.”
Romney’s debate performance against President Barack Obama last week – and his energetic appearances following it up – have fueled a rise in enthusiasm on the campaign trail. Whether or not it will translate into votes, polls do suggest that Republicans are fired up. It’s a welcome development for the Republican businessman, who is hardly a natural politician and has long struggled to match Obama’s ability to inspire excitement.
In Virginia, for example, Republican leaning counties appear to be getting the fastest start on absentee voting ahead of Election Day. State Board of Elections data analyzed by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit and nonpartisan tracker of money in state politics, shows that of the 25 localities where absentee voting is busiest, 21 voted Republican in the 2008 presidential race. And of the 25 localities where absentee balloting is the slowest so far, 16 supported Obama.
Romney seems to be feeding off the energy pumping through his now-sprawling crowds, even as aides downplay the newfound momentum among the GOP base.
“I’m overwhelmed by the number of people here,” he exulted while scanning the sea of supporters packed beyond the fairgrounds fences here. “There are even people out there – that’s another county over there.”
Romney’s growing crowds come as new polls suggest he has erased Obama’s advantage in voter support nationally. Races have tightened in a handful of battleground states, too.