There’s a moment that arrives now and again in presidential campaign speeches when the candidate says, “If I’m president,” and then corrects himself: “when I’m president.” This is a crowd favorite and usually gets a healthy round of cheers. Then the candidate moves on. When Mitt Romney said this on Thursday morning in Cincinnati, the crowd reacted as if it was election night and he’d just been declared president—and they’d been given a new car. For 30 seconds, they screamed and cheered.
As we enter the final sprint, campaigns and their supporters will sustain themselves on sweeping crowd shots of supporters cheering on their man. At the Romney rally on a football field in Defiance, Ohio, the campaign had a camera hooked to a drone to get sweeping crowd shots. So far this campaign we’ve had fights over facts, and then it was a fight over the polls. Now we’re having a fight over momentum. Who has the larger crowd? Who has more enthusiasm?
Trying to read a crowd is mostly a mug’s game. I remember attending a John McCain event in Appleton, Wis., in 2008 that made the ground shake in the gymnasium. McCain lost Wisconsin by 14 points. Still, for Mitt Romney, who was once considered merely a tepid vessel of anti-Obama feeling and who had trouble in the primaries stirring the party faithful, he’s peaking at the right time. The lines snake through neighborhoods and people leave hoarse and buoyant. It used to be that his crowds were most excited when he said mean things about Barack Obama. Now that’s not what is getting most of the cheers. They cheer for Romney, the guy up there on stage.