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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In New Hampshire, Romney\'s Last Pre-Election Rally

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Even Mitt Romney looked a little surprised to see a crowd of 13,000 and several thousand more waiting in the below-freezing temperatures to get into the Verizon Wireless Arena here Monday night.

At his final rally before Election Day, Mr. Romney took the stage after 11 p.m. after a brief performance by Kid Rock. The crowd shouted “U-S-A” and waved “Romney-Ryan” and “Women for Mitt” signs. Mr. Romney, the Republican candidate, took it all in.

“These last months of our campaign have seen the gathering of strength of real movement across the country. It's evident in the size of these crowds like this tonight - my goodness,” he said, to applause. “And I understand that there are a few thousand people outdoors who couldn't get in, too.”

It was a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Romney, who kicked off his presidential campaign in New Hampshire, first in the Republican primary and then in the general election. Polls have tightened in the state recently, with Mr. Romney by most measures trailing President Obama by a few percentage points.

“This is a special moment for Ann and for me because this is where our campaign began,” Mr. Romney said. “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!”

Standing in front of a giant blue sign that read “Real Change on Day One,” Mr. Romney accused Mr. Obama of worsening the partisan divide in Washington and caring “more about a liberal agenda” than the economy. “I won't waste any time complaining about my predecessor,” he said. The crowd roared.

That sentiment struck a particular chord with Stefan Skalinski, an 18-year-old high school senior who said he planned to vote for Mr. Romney on Tuesday. Mr. Skalinski, bedazzled in Romney-Ryan buttons a nd bumper stickers stuck on his sweatshirt, hovered by a heat lamp waiting to get into the Verizon arena.

“After the past four years Obama keeps blaming Bush, but he's done nothing,” Mr. Skalinksi said. He shook his head, “He promised us so much change in 2008.”

Martha Garron, 52, held a homemade sign that said, “Hope is not a plan.” She shivered outside the arena waiting to clear security and get inside.

“We wanted to see Romney before he becomes president,” Ms. Garon said. She said the economy was the most important issue, but that Mr. Obama had let her down on other counts. “It's everything,” she said. “And Libya to boot.”

As a former governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney feels a particular closeness to neighboring New Hampshire, which only carries four electoral votes but has a particularly high voter turnout and a large number of independent voters who can sway the state's electoral votes. His final campaign rally carried a mix of exhaustion (particularly by the traveling press corps who had an hourlong bus ride to Boston ahead of them when the event ended), nostalgia for previous victories in New Hampshire and anxiousness to see what Tuesday's vote brings.

“We're one day away from a fresh start, one day away from the first day of a new beginning,” Mr. Romney said. “My conviction is that better days are ahead.”

The size of the crowd at the Romney rally might not translate to voters. Many of the attendants said they had driven in from nearby states - Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey - to see the event.

David Perry, a 60-year-old director of development at the Boy Scouts of America, and his wife drove two-and-a-half hours from their home in Windham, Conn., to attend the Romney rally. “I've got five grandchildren and I don't want to leave an enormous debt for them,” Mr. Parry said. “I think there's a real crisis going on in America.”

Amanda Fiedl er, a 21-year-old senior at Gordon College, a Christian school in Wenham, Mass., drove to Manchester with a few friends because she said they are scared they will not find jobs when they graduate. “Obama has had four years to improve the unemployment rate,” she said. “We're all worried about getting jobs.”