NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made the final sprint of his campaign through Virginia's all-important Hampton Roads battleground on Sunday, rallying several thousand backers in the state's southeast corner and presenting his closing argument to the region for the first time.
"Virginia may well be the place that decides who the next president is going to be," Romney said at raucous gathering staged inside an airport hangar. "You've got to think of two very different outcomes."
Democrats and Republicans alike say Virginia's presidential contest will come down to two regions - Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads - and Romney plans to visit both by the time he winds down to his final campaign rally late Monday in New Hampshire.
Along with the Newport News stop on Sunday, Romney will travel to Fairfax and Lynchburg on Monday.
Romney's visit came as polls that have handicapped the race for Virginia's 13 electoral votes as a dead heat. While President Obama has taken a narrow lead in the two freshest surveys, an average of all recent polls from RealClearPolitics.com gives Romney a marginal lead.
Despite bullish predictions from Romney's aides, top Democrats are far from conceding Virginia. Joined by former President Bill Clinton and musician Dave Matthews, Obama drew 24,000 supporters to an event on Saturday night in Bristow in Northern Virginia, and analysts are quick to note that Obama's grassroots operation is especially strong in the Old Dominion.
On the stump Sunday, Romney continued his standard message of late: that he, not Obama, is the true candidate of change.
"The question of this election comes down to this: Do you want four more years like the last four years, or do you want real change?" Romney said. "Accomplishing change is not just something I talk about. It's something I've done."
Romney also accused Obama of furthering political strife in the capital.
"Instead of bridging the divide, if you will, he's made the divide wider," Romney charged, again taking his fight to a theme on which Obama ran in 2008.
He also asked Virginia voters to consider more than this cycle's blitz of negative campaigning.
"Ask them to look beyond the issues and the attacks and the ads," Romney said. "Look at the record."