Barack Obama's 'firewall' burning - Republicans

Mitt Romney meets supporters in Tampa, Florida. Photo: 31 October 2012 Image copyright AP
Image caption The Republicans feel the campaign is theirs and their candidate Mitt Romney's to win

"Their firewall," said an uber-confident member of Team Romney, with a hint of glee, "is burning."

The "firewall' in question is the one allegedly dreamt up by Democratic strategists to stop dead any advance by the forces of Mitt: it consists of the Midwestern states of Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin (also referred to jocularly as the rust belt, the corn belt and the cheese belt).

This electoral Maginot Line was to be the rock upon which Republican Panzers would smash; nothing would penetrate the sturdy good sense of the Midwest, thankful that President Obama had rescued their auto industry, their farms and, er, their cheese.

Not so fast, say Team Romney: following relentless air assault, Republican strategists now say they believe that the Democratic defences are about to crumble; if the Midwest can be penetrated by Mitt's freedom-forces, then the rest of the country will willingly embrace the Rule of Romney.

Watching Mitt Romney in Florida, I had to wonder if anyone on his staff had bothered to tell him that he was on the verge of victory.

Or if anyone had told him that a great chunk of the north-east was cold, dark and soaking wet.

Wishful thinking?

He nodded towards the pain inflicted by storm Sandy and then moved on to the stump speech that anyone who has attended more than one rally knows so well - the five-point plan, the anecdote about the US flag rescued from the space shuttle Challenger disaster, the dully-delivered homilies about the need for change.

But you know what? The fact - for it is an undeniable one - that Romney is stiff on the stump does not really matter.

After the presumptuously named "Victory" rally, I went to a "Victory" centre - also known as a Republican field office - in West Tampa.

It was bustling, absolutely bustling, with activists, all volunteers, grabbing fistfuls of stickers and leaflets and lugging armfuls of lawn signs from the office into cars and pick-up trucks.

"What did you think of the speech?" I was asked. Before I could embarrass myself, I was told that it was wonderful, simply wonderful, so much energy, marvellous. And the bustling went on.

The Republicans have a furious fire in their bellies: they loathe President Obama; they fear another four years of him in the White House above nearly anything.

The part of Tampa these activists were about to fan out over was once solidly Republican, now less so, with more independents. And they, I was assured, are coming round to Mitt, big-time.

The message from Romney's strategists - huddled over national and state polls, sifting advertising buys and reports from the field - is the same. Independents are on board; the ground game is strong; the firewall is burning.

There may be a good dose of wishful thinking about their analysis; and they tell a tale that will buoy their activists as they go into a final five days of door-knocking, leafleting and lawn-signing. If Team Romney are dissembling, they are not doing it just for fun - there is strategy behind the spin.

But bear in mind the possibility that they are right - that the fired-up Republican base will not only turn out, but will inspire, cajole and annoy others to do so. That independents like what they see in moderate-Mitt, the one that turned up for the first presidential debate.

And that those who have told pollsters time and time again over the past few years that the country is on the wrong track will vote for the change that Mitt Romney offers.

The electoral college mountain is still dauntingly high: without Ohio, Romney must pretty much sweep the swing-state board.

But Republicans - up in the air with Romney, and clutching lawn signs down on the ground - feel the campaign is theirs to win.

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