Romney Begins Final Campaign Swing with Big Promises in Florida

At the outset of a final, frantic cross-country sprint that will take him to four battleground states on Monday, Romney sought to wrap himself in the mantle of change.

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Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Pataskala, Ohio on Nov. 2, 2012

Sanford, Florida

Mitt Romney’s last day on the campaign trail began like any other. Before the sun burned off the thick Florida fog, his motorcade snaked away from a cookie-cutter Marriott, through the Orlando suburbs to an airport in Sanford, where a modest but boisterous crowd greeted the Republican nominee inside a humid hangar.

Romney’s advance team cranked up the pageantry for his last event in Florida, bedecking the cavernous space with signs promising victory and “Real Change on Day One.” A giant American flag hung from a cherry-picker parked near Romney’s plane; supporters pinned tiny flags in their hair. A lengthy roster of local luminaries, including Florida Governor Rick Scott and one of his predecessors, Jeb Bush, were brought in to whip up the crowd. Romney’s supporters roared at all the right moments, calling Obama a “loser” and urging fellow citizens to “fire” him.  But some seemed nervous all the same.

Perhaps that’s because Republicans know Romney wouldn’t be here if his campaign weren’t teetering on a knife’s edge with 24 hours to go. Florida is the foundation of any plausible path Romney has to an Electoral College victory, but polls have pegged the state as a tossup. So here was Romney, bidding to shore up support at the eastern end of the state’s pivotal I-4 corridor at the outset of this final, frantic cross-country sprint that will take him to four battleground states on Monday, the last full day of campaigning. (According to an Associated Press report, Romney is now mulling a Tuesday trip to Ohio in a last-ditch effort to win the state’s 18 electoral votes.)

In the closing stages of a tight race, Romney has sought to wrap himself in the mantle of change, adopting a mantra that vaulted Barack Obama to the White House four years ago. “The President promised change but couldn’t deliver it. I not only promise change; I have a record of achieving it,” Romney said. “If you’re tired of being tired, then I ask you to vote for real change.”

“This is an election about big things,” Romney said. Big was the watchword of his 20-minute speech – Romney promised “big change,” “big ideas” fit for a “big election” that holds “big challenges and big opportunities.” But you wouldn’t know it from a small and contentious campaign that both sides waged in tired platitudes, with the same inspirational anecdotes and canned attack lines. Even the new stuff sounds focus-grouped to a high gloss. “Tomorrow, we begin a new tomorrow,” Romney said. “The door to a brighter future is open.”

At the fringe of the crowd, Stuart Stevens, Romney’s rumpled svengali and speechwriter, leaned against a table arrayed with donuts and coffee, assuring reporters that Romney would win the I-4 corridor, and with it the state. “He’s eager to lead the country,” Stevens says. In a day’s time, Romney will either have won that responsibility or be heading home for good.

All there is left to do, Romney told the crowd here, is to get to the polls. “Look, we have one job left,” he said. “We need every single vote in Florida.”