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When Mitt Romney was a young man, his father wrote him a letter which included a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: Despair not, but if you despair, work on in your despair. Just a few weeks ago, some pundits thought the Romney campaign should be on the verge of despair. Now he's racing to the finish of a very close race. He met up with running mate Paul Ryan for a rally just outside Las Vegas and a nighttime event in Denver. NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the Romney campaign.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: For the Romney campaign, momentum is the catchword of the moment. In the last few weeks the challenger has brought national polls into an effective tie. He's still a bit behind in a few important swing states, so the candidate is putting all his weight behind turning this tie into a win.
MITT ROMNEY: And these debates have supercharged our campaign, there's no question about it. We're seeing more and more enthusiasm, more and more support.
SHAPIRO: Six thousand people filled an outdoor amphitheater near Las Vegas as the running mates took the stage together on a bright sunny afternoon.
ROMNEY: We've gone through four debates with the vice presidential debate and my debates. And we haven't heard an agenda from the president and that's why his campaign is taking on water and our campaign is full speed ahead.
SHAPIRO: The logic of Romney's argument is not obvious. President Obama and Vice President Biden together won three of the four debates, but Romney advisor Kevin Madden says the campaign's approach to the debates never focused on a win-lose tally. He spoke to reporters on the airplane to Nevada.
KEVIN MADDEN: Rather than taking them debate by debate, the debates collectively, the goal was to give people a sense of exactly what he would do as president. I think the debates as a whole have largely been a success as a result.
SHAPIRO: The campaign believes the first debate helped Romney cross an important threshold. It let people see the challenger as a viable president. And Romney's aides say the next two presidential debates solidified that image, no matter whether he won or lost. People in the crowd at Romney's Nevada rally share this view. Lisa Baylash is closing down her Pilates studio after business dried up.
LISA BAYLASH: And I think the first debate put him in the driver's seat and I think that Obama looked scared and I think they are scared and that's why they come up with the — all they have is the birth control and the Big Bird and the binders and all that stupid stuff that doesn't make a difference. And I think that what's going on, Mitt Romney's using facts and he's going to take action when he takes office.
SHAPIRO: Virginia Fennigan is a retiree.
VIRGINIA FENNIGAN: Oh, I'm so excited. We're all so energized. You can feel the wave coming in after the first debate. I worked in the office all the time, the campaign offices, and it's marvelous the response we're getting.
SHAPIRO: From Nevada, Romney flew to Colorado.
ROMNEY: Thank you, Colorado.
SHAPIRO: The Red Rocks Amphitheater is carved into the stone outside of Denver. Twelve thousand supporters filled the stands. Some wore colored T-shirts that forms the shape of a giant Colorado flag. Cliff faces towering over the auditorium seats were awash with blue light and a white Romney logo.
ROMNEY: Boy, what a - what a place this is.
SHAPIRO: Democrats say it's hypocritical of Romney and Ryan to campaign at this place that was built with government money. It's the sort of public works project that Democrats want more of and Republicans find wasteful. Romney said his campaign is on the rise while President Obama's is receding.
ROMNEY: It's why this movement is growing across the country and it's why we need you to go out and get other people and recruit you to this cause because we need to take back America and get America strong again, providing for our citizens a bright and prosperous future.
SHAPIRO: A few states away, unexpected events distracted from Romney's message. Republican Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdoch said he believes that pregnancies caused by rape are God's will. Romney has endorsed and campaigned with Mourdoch and appears in a new ad for him. A Romney campaign spokeswoman says Romney does not agree with Mourdoch's statement about rape and pregnancy, but Romney has not withdrawn his support for Mourdoch. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Golden, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.