It might have been the moment Mitt Romney was envisioning when he launched his presidential campaign. In a grassy field near Milwaukee, several thousand supporters showed up to welcome Romney and his new running mate, native son Paul Ryan. It was a classic Wisconsin tableau, with supporters sprawled on bales of hay and a red barn in the distance. As the score from the movie Air Force One rang out, the bus carrying the Republican ticket rolled to the edge of the crowd to thunderous cheers.
The Sunday evening rally – perhaps the largest Romney has staged so far in this campaign – was billed as a “homecoming” for Ryan, who wiped tears from his eyes as he gazed out over the crowd. But it was an equally memorable event for Romney, who gave an upbeat speech in which he urged President Obama to “take your campaign out of the gutter” and forcefully confronted a protester.
Meet the new Mitt Romney. The candidate once seemed to regard retail politics as a chore he must endure before claiming the presidency. But in two days of whirlwind campaigning that have followed the unveiling of Ryan as his running mate, Romney has been loose and up-tempo. His crowds are bigger, more boisterous. These were perhaps the best two days of his whole campaign. Just ask him.”I’m happy today. I hope you’re happy. I’m happy,” he told a jubilant crowd gathered in Ashland, Va., on Saturday. At a Sunday morning rally inside a NASCAR technical institute in Mooresville, N.C., Romney marveled at a race car emblazoned with his campaign logo, recalled his high-school days driving around a date in his dad’s Rambler, and pumped his fist when a “U-S-A” chant broke out.
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Afterward, Romney and Ryan greeted an overflow crowd milling in the parking lot. “I am so happy. I am so happy to have my teammate now, the two of us,” Romney said. When the throng began chanting Ryan’s name, Romney jumped in, egging them on. “Yeah, Paul! Paul! Paul!” he cheered. “Let’s hear it for Paul.”
At an afternoon rally in a muggy furniture warehouse in High Point, N.C., Ryan gestured to Romney and proclaimed, “This man is the epitome of leadership.” When he took the mic, Romney returned the favor, telling the crowd that “the reason I selected this guy to be my running mate is because I knew I wanted a person who was a leader.”
Republicans seem to love the pick. Tony Bleyer, a nephrologist from Winston-Salem who brought his family to the rally in High Point, said that he wasn’t sold on Romney until he added the 42-year-old Congressman to the ticket. “I want someone who has big ideas,” he says, and particularly ones focused on fixing the federal budget.
It’s unclear whether the glow of the Romney-Ryan camaraderie will last after this first exciting weekend. The “homecoming” rally Sunday night in Wisconsin marked the end of the Republican’s ticket first joint campaign swing, and it may be awhile before the two men share a stage again. On Monday Ryan will visit the Iowa State Fair before jetting off for fundraising engagements. Romney’s bus tour will continue with a series of stops in Florida — a state whose aging population may not cotton to Ryan’s proposal to voucherize Medicare — before wrapping up with a daylong tour of Ohio on Tuesday. Romney adviser Kevin Madden said Sunday the two men will likely “be campaigning on different tracks until the convention.”
Romney may miss the companionship. He finally seems to be having fun.