WEST ALLIS, WI — The speech Mitt Romney delivered to a warehouse full of roaring partisans here Friday morning was billed by the campaign "a closing argument" — but it felt more like a thought experiment.
As the campaign prepares to enter its frenetic final 72 hours, Romney used this rally outside Milwaukee not to change voters' minds, but to compel his most ardent supporters to action with an old motivational speaker's trick: Help them visualize the win.
"This Tuesday is a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do, to put the past four years behind us and start building a new future," Romney told the crowd. "On November 6th, we come together for a better future. And on November 7th, we'll get to work," he added.
Republicans believe they can overcome President Obama's slim but persistent lead in most swing states by out-hustling disillusioned Democrats. But as the cable news chatter has begun to shift from describing the race as an un-callable toss-up to advantage Obama, Romney needs his base to believe victory is close enough that it's worth spending the weekend knocking on doors and making phone calls.
So, he described his proposed reforms in absolute terms, not conditionals: It was "when I'm president," not "if." He laid out his plan to tun the Oval Office into a dispenser of legislative initiatives and sweeping executive orders designed to jump-start the national economy.
He pledged to begin dismantling Obamacare immediately. He promised a fast-moving, wide-scale review to identify unnecessary regulations. And he said he would send a bill to Congress right away calling for an immediate 5% cut to nondefense discretionary spending.
He used the words "day one" at least half a dozen times, urging his supporters to consider how different the country will be with him at the helm.
The Republican audience, which hasn't seen Romney in their state in months, ate up it up, hollering, pumping their fists in solidarity, and interrupting the speech on two separate occasions to chant, "Four more days!"
Then, after providing a vague sketch of what victory would look like, he told the audience it was up to them to color in the picture.
"We have journeyed far and wide in this great campaign for America's future. And now we are almost home," Romney said. "One final push will get us there. We have known many long days and short nights, and now we are close."
Presidential candidates often pepper their speeches in the waning days of the race with musings about a palpable, unquantifiable "energy" they feel across the country — a mysterious momentum that doesn't show up in polls but that could ultimately swing the election their way.
It's mostly a trick, of course, but one that can command real results if voters truly buy into it.
And in that raucous Milwaukee warehouse, there were a lot of people buying into it.
"I'm excited!" exclaimed Darlene Johnson, a supporter from a nearby suburb wearing a bright red Romney T-shirt. "I believe he's gonna win, you bet. And I've placed 500 or more phone calls for him. I worked out of the Waukesha Victory Center, and I'll give my heart and soul to this campaign."
Johnson said she planned to spend the next four days distributing campaign materials door-to-door and talking family friends into voting for Romney.
"Just like with Ronald Reagan's 'Do it for the Gipper,' we've gotta do this," she said.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.