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Saturday, September 1, 2012

In a Post-Convention Bump, Romney Draws Huge Crowds in Cincinnati


CINCINNATI â€" A crowd of thousands cheered Mitt Romney at a rally here during the opening leg of a cross-country campaign swing on Saturday, testing for the first time whether he can sustain political momentum coming out of the Republican National Convention.

A line of people that stretched for five city blocks awaited Mr. Romney as his motorcade pulled into the Union Terminal. Inside there were so many people that the campaign had to redirect a few hundred of them into a small overflow room, where they crammed in shoulder to shoulder.

Mr. Romney has often failed to spark much of a connection with his audiences, and enthusiasm for him along the campaign trail has often been in short supply.

But inside a soaring Art Deco-styled rotunda here, the candidate, joined by Senator Rob Portman and Representative John Boehner, the House speaker, delivered a vigorous and sharply focused speech that sent the audience into ear-splitting roars.

Mr. Romney added new punch lines to his denunciation of President Obama's first term as a betrayal of the promises he made and a failure to lead.

“One of the promises he made was he was going to create more jobs. And today, 23 million people are out of work or stopped looking for work or underemployed,” Mr Romney said. “Let me tell you, if you have a coach that's 0 and 23 million, you say it's time to get a new coach. It's time for America to see a winning season again, and we're going to bring it to them.”

In the last few weeks, Mr. Romney has relied on his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, to infuse energy into his campaign rallies. But Mr. Ryan was in Columbus, north of here, campa igning at one of the state's high holidays, the season opening football game at Ohio State, playing Miami University of Ohio, which is Mr. Ryan's alma mater.

The two men are scheduled to appear together later in the day at a second rally on the waterfront in Jacksonville, Fla.

The setting for Mr. Romney's speech here has a history of providing the backdrop for major political events. On Oct. 7, 2002, George W. Bush delivered a televised address from Union Terminal to make his case for the Iraq War.

Though Mr. Romney devoted much of his remarks to crowd-pleasing put-downs of the president, he confronted head on a subject that he has been more reluctant to wade into: chastising Republicans for running up the deficit when they controlled Washington.

The more popular and convenient story line for many Republicans has often been to lay the blame for record deficits squarely at the feet of the Obama administration.

“We're going to finally have to d o something that Republicans have spoken about for a long time, and for a while we didn't do it,” he said. “When we had the lead we let people down.”

The speech hit some of the same notes that Mr. Romney made in Tampa, Fla., where he accepted his party's nomination on Thursday night. He accused the president of putting teachers' unions, not students, first. He said that the president would raise taxes on small business. And he pledged to repeal the president's health care overhaul, which he called a “big cloud” raining over small businesses.

That line drew the most thunderous response from the crowd, which erupted into a half-minute of chants of “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!”

Compared to the energy level inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum last week, which often seemed muted as many seats went unfilled and spectators milled about in the aisles checking their smart phones during speeches, the rally on Saturday morning was a noticeable improvement.

“ America's going to come roaring back,” Mr. Romney said as he concluded. “We're going to get America strong again, for you, for your children, for the future.”

The speech, complete with sports metaphors and the “roaring back” line, recalled the message of a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler called “Halftime in America.” The ad's star? A speaker who made a controversial appearance at the convention: Clint Eastwood.