Romney Campaigns In Virginia On Debate Momentum

The day after the first presidential debate, GOP challenger Mitt Romney rallied thousands of supporters in rural Virginia. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was there too, cheering on his running mate following Wednesday's strong debate performance in Denver.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

For the first time since the start of 2009, the nation's unemployment rate is below 8 percent. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the number at 7.8 percent in September.

MONTAGNE: Employers added 114,000 new jobs overall. The government also revised the job estimates for July and August, reporting that more jobs were created than previously known, and putting a different cast on the entire summer.

INSKEEP: Often, in the past, when the unemployment rate has gone down, it was because many people gave up looking for work, but apparently not this time. The percentage of people participating in the workforce went up.

MONTAGNE: The numbers arrive in the midst of a presidential campaign that's intensifying, as President Obama and Mitt Romney follow up on Wednesday's debate. NPR's Ari Shapiro has more.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney didn't have any scheduled events yesterday morning. But when his sons took the stage at the Colorado meeting of conservative activists, they had a surprise for the audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There's only four of us here today. We're missing my brother Ben. He's a doctor. He couldn't be here. So we found a fill-in for him, another member of the family. We wanted to bring him out.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: That rabid enthusiasm greeting Romney as he took the stage had been waning from conservative circles. Republican stalwarts had been grinding their teeth over Romney's failure to connect with voters. But in Denver, Romney gave them something to cheer about as he relived the debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: You know, last night, I thought, was a great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country. And I think it was helpful to be able to describe those visions. I saw the president's vision as trickle-down government.

SHAPIRO: An hour later, Romney's plane was on the runway, and the pilot's voice came over the intercom. The Denver control tower has congratulated the governor on last night, the pilot said. We are number one for takeoff.

Romney flew East, from the Front Range Mountains of Colorado to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LADIES LOVE COUNTRY BOYS")

TRACE ADKINS: (Singing) For some camouflage britches and a Southern boy drawl.

SHAPIRO: Country singer Trace Adkins took the stage as the sun set over Fishersville. This is farm country, near the West Virginia border. The crowd was speckled with neon orange baseball caps that the National Rifle Association was handing out.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre offered his group's official endorsement of Romney.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

WAYNE LAPIERRE: If your glass breaks at 2 AM at night somewhere from some criminal, you all know those baby blue helmets of the U.N. are not going to be there to protect you.

SHAPIRO: Paul Ryan was there, too, cheering on his running mate for Wednesday's debate performance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PAUL RYAN: America got to see the man I know, a leader, a decisive man, an optimistic man, a man with a plan to get people back to work and to protect our freedoms.

SHAPIRO: Ryan also attacked Vice President Biden by name, perhaps in advance of next week's vice presidential debate.

Romney started off by calling Wednesday's debate an important night for the country, and then the audience cut him off with a roar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: They got the chance to - they got the chance to cut through all the attacks and counterattacks and all of the theatrics associated with a campaign, and instead they were able to listen to substance.

SHAPIRO: He relived some of his favorite moments from the face-off.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: I asked, you know, why is it that the middle class is still buried in this country? Why is it we have 23 million people out of work? Why is it half our kids coming out of college can't find good jobs?

SHAPIRO: Otherwise, his stump speech was mostly the same as before his match-up with President Obama. Nearly everyone in the audience said they had seen the debate, and they all shared the same verdict.

DANNY DOUGLAS SANDY: Romney tore Obama up.

BECKY WELLS: I think Romney done a wonderful job. I was really surprised.

RICK PEARL: I think Romney beat the pants off of him.

SHAPIRO: That was Danny Douglas Sandy, Becky Wells and Rick Pearl interviewed separately before the rally. None of them felt complacent, though. After all, Romney has just a month to close a real gap in polls with the president. And one debate may not be enough to do that.

WELLS: It isn't over till the fat lady sings, as the old saying goes.

SHAPIRO: And voters at this rally all agreed on what Romney needs to do in the month ahead.

PEARL: I think if they just keep doing what they're doing, I think they'll win.

WELLS: Just keep on doing what he's doing.

SHAPIRO: But, in fact, the debate Wednesday night was different from what Romney's been doing. People are calling his performance a reset, or a pivot from his losing strategy of the last few months.

Voter Ann Ainsley isn't hung up on terminology.

ANN AINSLEY: Whatever it was, it was great.

SHAPIRO: Now, she just wants more of it.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Fishersville, Virginia.

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