BOSTON — Despite victories in five states, Mitt Romney still faces a long road to the GOP nomination.
"Tomorrow, we wake up and we start again. And the next day, we'll do the same," the former Massachusetts governor told a hometown crowd Tuesday night, well before it was clear he'd won in critical Ohio. "And so we'll go, day by day, step by step, door by door, heart to heart. There will be good days. There will be bad days. Always long hours, never enough time to get everything done."
Romney's campaign team was clearly nervous as they waited for the Ohio results to roll in, leaving the Boston hotel ballroom almost immediately after Romney finished his remarks.
Romney himself claims he doesn't get nervous on primary nights. He doesn't have a lucky tie. And before the results started rolling in, he said the best part about Super Tuesday was getting to head back to Belmont, Mass., and eat dinner with of their five sons.
"Oh, boy, we're headed home," the former Massachusetts governor said as he stood in the aisle of the campaign charter plane that has carried him to Ohio, Idaho, Washington state and back to Ohio in the past week alone.
It might to be awhile before he gets to come back.
Romney won at least five states Tuesday, but rival Rick Santorum won at least three. Romney now faces a string of difficult conservative states — Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama — with severely depleted campaign coffers.
He's been on the road the past two months straight, having last slept here on Jan. 6, right before New Hampshire's primary four days later. Massachusetts voted Tuesday along with nine other states that, together, handed him a significant number of delegates in what's become a prolonged fight to become the GOP nominee.
"It's been a long road getting to Super Tuesday, let me — let me be honest," he told the cheering crowd in Boston.
Romney spent millions to close the gap with Santorum first in Michigan and then in Ohio. His campaign stopped doing internal polls days ago, and he didn't spend any money on TV advertising in Tennessee, where he trailed Santorum by 9 percent. He's planning brief campaign stops in three next-up states at the end of the week, but has to spend three days of next week fundraising in New York City. Romney said Tuesday he hasn't contributed any of his own considerable personal wealth to the campaign.
Romney's super PAC allies did run ads in Tennessee, and they're already up on the air in Louisiana and in Illinois, contests that come later in March.
"I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to get this nomination," Romney said Tuesday night, well before the last races were called.
Romney and his wife, Ann, made a rare visit to the national press corps traveling on his plane Tuesday as it waited on the tarmac in Ohio to take him to Belmont, Mass., where they raised their children and have a house.
For 25 minutes, the Romneys chatted casually with reporters, a remarkable moment for a campaign that until now has held the national media at arm's length. The moment was part of a tentative transition as Romney looks ahead from his role as the nominal frontrunner in the GOP nomination fight to a general election against President Barack Obama.
On most days, Romney gets on and off the front of the plane as reporters climb on and off the back, taking photographs from many rows behind. He has held question-and-answer sessions with the press corps on the plane, and sometimes hands out lunch or snacks. But not often.
Now, the candidate — as well as his advisers — are making a clear push to build a stronger relationship with the media and recover from a series of comments by Romney that made the wealthy former Massachusetts governor seem out of touch.
These days, the campaign is working to show the human side of a candidate who aides say is warm, funny and down-to-earth in private — and provide a little bit of context to go with the scrutiny that's set to get much more intense as Romney moves toward becoming the GOP nominee.
To that end, the chat session at the back of the plane was followed by a formal press conference outside a Massachusetts polling place.
"There will always be in the world of media people who will find clip sentences to try and say something that you didn't mean to say," Romney told a bank of cameras there. "That's just the nature of the process."
No cameras were permitted by the campaign staff to film Romney on the plane, and reporters were prohibited from reporting much of what he said as a condition for getting access to him — as is often standard during presidential campaigns. The difference was plain: He told personal stories, spoke more slowly and cracked easy jokes when he knew it wouldn't be used in stories.
At his news conference, answers were quick.
He avoided specifics, saying he wanted to win in Massachusetts, his home state, but offered no predictions about states where the contests were closer. He refused to comment again on Rush Limbaugh's crude criticism of a Georgetown law student — on Friday Romney had called the remarks "not the language I would have used" — saying only that he planned to focus his campaign on jobs and the economy.
"I think we'll pick up a lot of delegates," was all Romney would say about Tuesday night. "This is a process of gathering enough delegates to become the nominee, and I think we're on the track to have that happen."