Flanked by four young grandchildren, a buoyant-looking Mitt Romney strode across the tarmac here early Saturday afternoon, creating a perfectly posed American family tableau on the day that Nevadans voted for their choices to be the Republican presidential nominee.
He had reason to look upbeat; early returns from Nevada caucuses indicate a decisive win -- which would make it the second state he has won in a row, and the third total -- boosting the narrative of his inevitability, which briefly seemed in doubt after he was routed in South Carolina by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Colorado’s caucuses take place Tuesday.
Romney disembarked from his campaign plane with his 40-year-old son, Matt, a Rancho Bernardo real estate investor, Matt’s wife, Laurie, their twins, Nick and Chloe, son Nate, and a cousin. Romney walked his son’s family to a waiting SUV, deposited them, and then walked over to a different waiting vehicle. It was a perfect photo op, brought to you by an organization that for the most part has erred little when it has come to the visuals of a winning campaign.
In a hangar-size steel manufacturing plant, slightly hazy from the acrid smoke of welding torches, Romney introduced his son and grandchildren, stumbling on the age of the youngest. “The little guy there, he’s playing Game Boy, that’s Nate. He’s about three. Four? Four. Grandpa doesn’t remember all the ages, you know; at least I remember the names.” The Romneys have five sons, all of whom are married, and 16 grandchildren.
A relaxed Romney, in jeans and a shirt open at the neck, also pointed out a nephew and his family in the crowd. “We have a lot of family. Particularly if you’re winning, my family’s turning out,” he said.
He never uttered the names of his rivals for the GOP nomination – Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum and of Pennsylvania and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas -- and couched the primary season as a battle between hims and a president he says is fundamentally transforming the country in negative ways.
“This is an election about the course for America, the soul of America, what kind of nation we are going to be,” said Romney. “Because the president and the people around him present a course for America that is very different from what we’ve known.”
Romney glossed over Friday’s news that the unemployment rate had dropped unexpectedly to 8.3%, a political boon for President Obama.
“And by the way, he doesn’t get credit for things getting better,” Romney said to cheers from the unexpectedly large crowd of about 700 people. “This president came into office said, ‘OK we are going to get this economy going by borrowing $700 billion in a stimulus.’ He said if he borrowed that money he would hold unemployment below 8%. It has not been below 8% since. He’s celebrating that it’s at 8.3. That’s still above the emergency line of 8%.”
Romney, a multimillionaire whose major gaffes along the trail have seemed to revolve around a perceived insensitivity to poor people, told a favorite story about a 70-year-old barber he visits in New Hampshire, who has not been able to afford to retire because economic times are tough.
“These have been challenging times,” Romney said, implicating Obama. “These three years have been hard on people, and they’re still hard. Seniors who thought they’d retire, they’re now working at minimum wages jobs. I see a lot of people who used to think about where they’re gonna send their kids to college; now they are wondering how they are going to put food on the table until their next paycheck comes in.”
After the rally, Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said the campaign is feeling good about Saturday’s results from Nevada, though he stopped short of crowing. “We never presume these things,” Stevens said.