Kid Rock thanks the crowd, and then the CD version of “Born Free” begins to play as its lyricist walks backstage. The lights come on, and everyone knows what’s coming. Then it happens, and people crane their necks, trying to spot Mitt and Ann Romney as they enter from stage right, from a private box off to the side. They walk down the aisle and shake hands, both of them wearing white shirts, and they take their time. When they get to the bottom of the aisle, they greet Ayotte and her husband.
It’s nearly midnight in Manchester, and Dixville Notch, N.H., a tiny town up near the Canadian border, will begin to vote in less than an hour. Ben Romney, the Romneys’ doctor son, joins his mother and father onstage. For two minutes straight, the crowd doesn’t stop roaring. Whenever there is a slight downturn in volume, it picks right back up. This overwhelms Romney, who squints his eyes and smiles, unsure of whether to interrupt. Ann Romney, for her part, simply leans back and lets out a hearty, relieved laugh.
The fog from the dry ice used by Kid Rock is still floating around the arena as the roar continues. Romney keeps listening to it, even when “Born Free” stops playing. What’s left is just the man onstage with his wife and son, no music, and the sound of a crowd that seems to love him, or at the very least is thrilled to be there with the nominee on election eve.
Ann’s voice is hoarse. She’s running on fumes, and she’s beaming and weary, all at the same time. “We’re kids of Detroit, too,” she says, thanking Kid Rock for his performance. Romney doesn’t nod at this, but his eyes are alight. He has been running for president for over five years, and here he is, in front of a huge crowd, thanking Pamela Anderson’s ex-husband. But he doesn’t seem to mind. He takes a few seconds to look around the entire arena, his gaze extending all the way to the nosebleed sections.
After Ann’s brief introduction, she and Ben leave the stage. Romney watches them as they head back up the aisle, and then he walks to the podium. The crowd lifts out of their seats. Here he is, the potential president, alone onstage. His sleeves are rolled up, his navy tie is straight, and with his shiny silver temples, he looks a lot like his father, George.
“This is a special moment for Ann and me, because this is where our campaign began,” Romney says, his voice as hoarse as his wife’s. “You got this campaign started a year and a half ago at the Scamman Farm, and then 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!”
Romney plows forward as the crowd applauds. Line after line, the crowd jumps up, rooting for him, urging him on. Romney tells them that their support in Manchester and at previous rallies over the past few weeks has encouraged him. “These last months of our campaign have seen the gathering strength of a real movement across the country,” he says. “It’s evident in the size of these crowds like this tonight — my goodness.”
The 13,000 people pump their fists. Romney may not have Chris Christie’s charisma, and he may use phrases like “my goodness,” but he’s their nominee. He’s their guy. They believe in him. That’s why they stood out in the cold, freezing for hours to get frisked by security. It’s why they’re standing and yelling at every Romney line as if it were the sharpest critique ever made of the Obama record.
It’s past midnight in Manchester, and they’re hopeful. So is Romney. “The president was right when he said he can’t change Washington from the inside, only from the outside,” Romney says near the end. “Let’s give him that chance!”
As the crowd rises for the last time, Romney begins to slow his words. “This is much more than our moment; it’s America’s moment,” he says. “We’re almost home. One final push, and we’ll get there. We’ve known many long days and short nights and now we’re close. The door to a brighter future is there. It’s open. It’s waiting for us.”
Romney begins to hit his right hand on the podium, emphasizing every word. “Walk with me,” he pleads. “Walk together.” A second later, he backs away and waves. As he bends down and dips arms into the crowd, grasping shoulders and outstretched hands, “Born Free” plays for one final late-night spin.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.