BOSTON -- Mitt Romney's relationship with his adopted home state of Massachusetts has always been somewhat complicated. He lost his first run for statewide office to Ted Kennedy, for better or worse a Bay State icon. Romney reportedly considered relocating his political ambitions to another state. When he instead ran for governor of Massachusetts, the state Democratic Party unsuccessfully tried to get him kicked off the ballot for failing to meet the residency requirement.
Romney was always criticized for doing too much out-of-state travel while he was in office. Even when Romney and his sons saved six people from drowning in New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee, a Democratic spokesman groused to local reporters, "Mitt Romney only chooses to run for office in Massachusetts -- he doesn't vacation here."
When Romney decided to run for president, many voters were irked that he was abandoning the commonwealth after only one term. Others had their feelings hurt when he told jokes about Massachusetts' liberal political culture while speaking to Republican audiences. Both complaints led the Boston Herald's Peter Gelzinis to pen a caustic column urging Bay Staters to quit Mitt: "Now, [Romney] limps back to us in Massachusetts, the least favorite of his 22 home states."
BUT ON SUPER TUESDAY, that all seemed like ancient history as Massachusetts was the first -- and for hours, the only -- state to hand Romney a primary victory. He beat John McCain, the 2000 Massachusetts primary winner over George W. Bush, by a solid ten points. "Welcome home, Mitt!" a woman shouted when Romney arrived after 10:30 to address his supporters in Boston. Earlier, a trio of Massachusetts Republican legislators assured the crowd that Romney had the right consuvative credentials.
Tagg Romney wasn't even afraid to play the Boston card on the Romney sons' Five Brothers campaign blog, writing last week, "Here's rooting for a Boston sweep -- World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Championship, and US Presidency."
On Sunday, New England Patriots fans sadly learned that the Super Bowl wouldn't be part of any Boston sweep. On Super Tuesday, Massachusetts somewhat more stoically took in the news that the U.S. presidency probably wouldn't be either. Early in the night, state after state fell to John McCain.
McCain dominated the Northeast, winning New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and also pulled out wins in border states like Missouri and Oklahoma. Conservative voters in the South looking for an alternative to McCain turned instead to Mike Huckabee, who won Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. McCainiacs and Ron Paul supporters joined together in an unlikely coalition to deliver the West Virginia caucuses to Huckabee rather than Romney.
LIKE PATS FANS late in the fourth quarter, Romney isn't letting go of the dream and neither were his supporters at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Never has this writer attended a more upbeat gathering for a candidate who was mostly losing (or, to use Romney's favorite metaphor, at least getting more silvers and bronzes than golds).
With the televisions flip-flopping between CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, the crowd first burst into applause when it was reported that Romney had won overwhelmingly among Bay State primary voters who described themselves as conservatives. They continued to cheer and applaud every time the results in Massachusetts and Utah flashed on the screen -- Romney's only victories until the contests moved West to Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota.
Hours before the polls closed on the West Coast, Romney supporters settled into party. "Hey, is that Dr. John playing?" one reveler asked a bewildered older lady about the music blasting on the sound system. As McCain and Huckabee piled up wins, they cheered each other up with promising poll results in California.
Only a few Sam Adams-sipping College Republicans went slightly off message. "I'm scared," one confessed. "I don't think I could vote for John McCain." "We bet on the wrong guy in the Huckabee-Brownback feud," another said after Huckabee was projected the winner in another Southern state. "Wait, you're not a reporter, are you?"
YET BY AND LARGE, the crowd remained enthusiastic in the face of daunting news. They waved large red foam "Mitt mitts" and signs saying "Change." They chanted "We love Mitt" whenever they saw that the gathering was being shown on TV. And they saved the best for their candidate.
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, joined by former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey and Romney's brother and sons, made it clear in his introduction that Romney was staying in the race. Romney made it even clearer. "We're going to keep on battling," he assured the crowd. "We're going to go all the way to the convention. We're going to win this thing, and we're going to get to the White House."
The Romney supporters cheered his applause lines on illegal immigration and the broken system in Washington as lustily as if he had just clinched the nomination. The candidate emphasized his private-sector experience and said, "It's time for the politicians to leave Washington and for we the people to take over!" Romney's only false note was when he invoked the "values of Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and Teddy Roosevelt." George Herbert Walker Bush?
At the conclusion of his speech, Romney jumped off the platform to shake hands with his supporters. People in the crowd surged forward to greet him. Others filed out, again reassuring each other that it wasn't over yet. California would give them their fourth quarter game-changing touchdown.
Indeed, it may not be over yet. Nevertheless, as this is being written, the networks are already projecting that California won't save Team Romney. Romney and his backers have a lot of heart. But his campaign is starting to look like the Patriots' desperate final 29 seconds of the Super Bowl. Only without a Tom Brady.
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