Derry, N.H.

If you’ve ever wondered how many people would come out at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning to a rally for Mitt Romney, the answer is: more than you think. When I showed up at the Pinkerton Academy’s field house at that hour this morning (the event itself was scheduled for 8:05), dozens of people were waiting outside and holding up signs—for Ron Paul. Inside the field house, the Romney campaign has curtained off a third of the gym for a space to hold the rally in.

It’s a big, professional operation: a stage, lighting, giant American flag for a backdrop, risers for the camera, and plenty of room for press. (Actually, the press had about as much space reserved for them as the general public did.) And while there are only a handful of Romney supporters there when I arrive, over the course of the next hour, the space fills out with probably a little north of 350 people. There’s lots of extra room, and nobody is bumping elbows, but it is still a pretty good crowd of people eager to see Romney.

After all, Granite Staters haven’t exactly overdosed on seeing the candidate. This is Romney’s fifth event in New Hampshire since the Iowa caucuses. (By contrast, Rick Santorum held six events yesterday.) But elbow grease isn’t dispositive in politics and Romney seems to be holding firm in the polls here, sitting on a 20-point lead over Ron Paul. His campaign is doing so well that they’ve reached the point where sometimes they don’t even try to fake it.

Yesterday, one of Romney’s surrogates, state senator Gary Lambert, told the press, “Rather than go on with the blah, blah, blah. I’d like to get right to the point. Which is—Look, we know how this movie is going to end. Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. . . . This is not about picking your favorite, it’s not about picking someone you like. It’s not about picking someone even with your own beliefs and principles. This is about picking a person that can beat Barack Obama, period.”

But today they’re really trying. Romney has South Carolina governor Nikki Haley on stage with him and she gives a fine introduction, noting how difficult Obama, his National Labor Relations Board, and Eric Holder’s Justice Department, have made life for South Carolinians. She says that on Tuesday, “We don’t just need a win in New Hampshire, we need a landslide in New Hampshire!”

For his part, Romney opens his remarks by immediately tamping down expectations, saying that people shouldn’t trust polls and that the race is still fluid. He then marches through a slightly elongated form of his stump speech, opening (like The Godfather) with lines such as “I love this country.”

Romney points out that, as a candidate, Obama held a rally four years ago in this same gym, where he promised big things. And he delivered, Romney says, “Big things. Bad things. Expensive things.” It’s a nice formulation and he uses it as he ticks off a list of Obama’s horribles: Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, deficits, the stimulus. He talks about his vision of America as a “merit society” and then gets to the elegiacal portion of his speech:

I have some favorite national hymns. And one I’ve been speaking about the last few days is America the Beautiful. And you know the words to that: Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain—when I was in Iowa I used to claim that corn qualified as an amber wave of grain. For purple mountains’ majesty—certainly Mount Washington and the mountains of the White Mountains qualify as purple mountains’ majesty.

There’s another verse I love. Oh beautiful, for heroes proved in liberating strife who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life—do we have any veterans here or members of the armed forces? Would you please raise your hand? [applause] Thank you. Thank you for your service.

We’re a patriotic nation. We love those who serve and we love this great country. There’s another verse. I hope we don’t forget it. Oh beautiful for patriots’ dream that sees beyond the years. The idea of the patriots and the Founders was not temporary. It was enduring. Those who would change America—the president said “fundamentally transform” America—are going in the wrong direction. The right course is to bring America back to the principles that made us who we are. Our love of freedom. Our passion for the Constitution. The patriotism we have for this land. And our conviction that this land should be a land of opportunity.

The crowd applauds heartily as Romney storms to the big finish. It’s another perfectly competent performance. The moment he’s done speaking, people head for the doors.

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