Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio. Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
As Mitt Romney's campaign bus rolled through the make-or-break state of Ohio earlier this week, the White House hopeful turned to aides in an unguarded moment to say how much he was enjoying himself.
"This is exciting, this is what all that hard work is for," Romney said, according to his senior advisor Kevin Madden.
The aide looked back at the 2012 campaign snapshot as indicative of the positivity and confidence that has permeated the Romney camp -- and the candidate himself -- just days before the biggest night of the Republican nominee's life on Tuesday.
"He's really excited about the state of the campaign right now," Madden told AFP after a late-night rally in Virginia.
In the closing days of what has been a grueling, 18-month push for the nation's top job, Romney was embracing what Madden described as "the opportunity to talk to voters up until the very last minute about what he wants to do as president."
Romney had felt the enthusiasm, Madden said, a few days ago in the midst of the long slog across the Midwestern state, where Romney was rewarded Friday night with one of the largest events of his campaign -- a raucous rally with more than 18,000 people including the Republican Party's top luminaries.
On Sunday night, despite bitter cold, even more people than that showed up for a rally at Shady Brook Farm in Pennsylvania.
"I think he's feeding off the crowd's energy," Madden added, denying suggestions that Romney, 65, is fighting exhaustion in the frantic 11th-hour hopscotch across the country.
"So right now he's just in a really good place, and he's enjoying this."
All despite polls which, while showing him in a dead head nationally against President Barack Obama, suggest the challenger has a heavy lift if he is to carry key battleground states that would win him the White House.
He is trailing the president slightly in Ohio, and the Obama campaign has been quick to call Romney's foray into Pennsylvania an act of desperation because the challenger is giving up on kingmaker Ohio.
Not true, insisted Madden, who said the campaign was "expanding the map because we have lots of opportunities" in states the Democrats long thought were safe territory, like Wisconsin and Minnesota.
"We're a campaign that's clearly on the offense, we're clearly seizing opportunities that the Democrats never thought would be there for us two months ago," he added.
"And here we are, two days before election day, and we just came from a rally where you had 25,000, 30,000 people in the swing areas of Pennsylvania."
Obama advisor David Plouffe suggested that much of Romney's expanded map strategy is a bluff at the end of a struggling campaign.
"A lot of this is a smokescreen, to try and mask the fact that in the places that will decide this election from an Electoral College standpoint -- Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin -- it's going to be close, but they are definitely in a weak position heading into election day," he told ABC.
That may be, but after a marathon campaign day that saw the candidate visit five states, Romney appeared in good spirits on his plane Sunday night in the center of a boisterous and clapping crowd, including Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, where Romney had just finished a rally in Newport News.
"Governor Romney and Mrs Romney... there's an emotional quotient to their reaction and the outpouring of support that they get from so many people" on the campaign trail, Madden said.
"It's really hit home in a personal way with them."