Exploiting every last moment of the campaign, Republican Mitt Romney hit the road on election day Tuesday, racing out to Ohio for a final shot at the crucial battleground that frames his bid for presidential glory.
With President Barack Obama clinging to a narrow lead in a knife-edge and
polarized election, Romney returned to the Midwest -- a region where he has already invested so much effort -- to make his closing arguments to voters.
Romney voted early in Massachusetts, then headed on to Ohio as well as Pennsylvania -- a state that has been leaning Democratic but which Romney suddenly visited Sunday for the first time in more than a month.
The stated goal for both stops, Romney's campaign said, was to meet with and thank volunteers who have worked tirelessly in his corner, as well as to help with get-out-the-vote efforts.
But with images of Romney blasted on television screens across America on Tuesday, the Republican clearly sought to portray himself as the never-say-die candidate carrying his work forward through election day.
"I feel great about Ohio," he told a reporter after voting in Massachusetts. Polls show the Buckeye State is leaning toward Obama, and with no Republican ever winning the White House without also winning Ohio, Romney knew his work was cut out for him.
Once he arrived in the Midwestern city of Cleveland, he and running mate Paul Ryan headed to a campaign office in Richmond Heights to lend inspiration to volunteers and voters.
"I'm so optimistic, not just about the results of the election, but optimistic about what's ahead for America," Romney said.
"I'm buoyed by the spirit of people across the nation -- the enthusiasm, the support, the energy. It's just amazing. Thank you."
Democrats have argued that Romney's 11th-hour return to Ohio smacked of desperation, but Romney senior strategist Stuart Stevens dismissed them with a sniff.
"I never thought that going out and talking to voters and working was anything but what we are supposed to do," Stevens said.
"We are going to win Ohio," he added. "We always close strong."
Romney and Ryan later made an impromptu stop at a restaurant to order some fast food. Noticing an employee on a mobile phone talking to someone about Romney's visit, the Republican nominee took the phone and made his pitch directly to a voter.
"Hey Judy, this is Mitt Romney," the candidate said. "Happy to be here today, thanks so much and get out and vote."
Obama, too, met with volunteers in his hometown of Chicago, and made calls of his own to some of the campaign's hardest workers out in the field.
But what stood out from the president's stop was his remarks about his rival that suggested a tone of finality to a process that is far from over.
"I also want to say to governor Romney, congratulations on a spirited campaign," Obama said.
"I know that his supporters are just as engaged and just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today," he added.
"So I would encourage everybody on all sides just to make sure that you exercise this precious right that you have that people fought so hard for," Obama said, adding that "I expect that we'll have a good night" later Tuesday.
Obama will be in Chicago to watch the results come in, while Romney will return to Boston where he hosts an election night event.
After Ohio, Romney jetted to Pittsburgh for another stop at a campaign office.
As he stepped off his plane, hundreds of people who had crowded onto a nearby parking garage cheered, prompting Romney to turn and wave before getting into his car.
"That's when you know you're going to win," he said.
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