RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Mitt Romney expressed confidence to the last. On his plane last night, he told reporters he had written just one speech, a victory address. He did not deliver that speech.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on the final step of Mitt Romney's long journey.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Forty-four years ago, Mitt Romney's father tried to reach the White House and stumbled during the primaries. Last night Romney the son came much closer, but he still fell short.
MITT ROMNEY: I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations.
SHAPIRO: Last night the Romney campaign had four teams of recount lawyers ready to deploy. They were prepared to contest Florida, Ohio, Virginia and one more state if the margins were slim enough to justify a fight. But the numbers were not even close. At his rally in Boston, Romney apologized to his supporters for falling short.
ROMNEY: I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction, but the nation chose another leader, and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.
SHAPIRO: On this extraordinary day, Mitt Romney began with a most ordinary routine. He spent his first night at home in weeks. In the morning, he ate one of his beloved peanut butter and honey sandwiches, exercised on the elliptical machine, and went to vote with wife Ann. Later Romney explained to reporters on his airplane how strange it felt to see his name on the ballot for president.
ROMNEY: Quite a moment. We've been working for this a long, long time, and to be on the ballot for the presidency of the United States is very humbling, it's a great honor, and I hope that I have the chance to serve.
SHAPIRO: Romney is famously competitive. Aides say he didn't want to spend election day twiddling his thumbs, so yesterday he visited Ohio and Pennsylvania. It was a way to thank volunteers and to give his campaign an 11th hour swing state push.
ROMNEY: A year's worth of work or longer or longer. It's all coming together today...
SHAPIRO: At a phone bank outside of Cleveland, he seemed genuinely enthusiastic and happy.
ROMNEY: I'm buoyed by the spirit of the people across the nation, the enthusiasm, the support, the energy - it's just amazing. Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Later in Pittsburgh, hundreds of people showed up at a parking garage near the tarmac to see his plane and cheer from afar. Romney waived to them from the other side of a chain link fence at the airport perimeter. Then he headed back towards his motorcade and said that's when you know you're going to win.
Romney flew home to Massachusetts projecting upbeat confidence. He said he had expected to be more tired.
ROMNEY: I think I got energy from the people that I spent with, whether at the rope line or at the rallies. You know, when you have 10,000 people cheering you, you get a real boost from it.
SHAPIRO: Mitt Romney spent many months of this campaign as the guy people would settle for as an alternative to Barack Obama, but in the final days of this race people genuinely seemed to love him. At one event after another, huge crowds screamed his name. The look of those crowds reflected something that ultimately undermined the candidate.
Mitt Romney supporters were older and overwhelmingly white. Last night he lost huge majorities among minorities, women and young voters. When the outcome became clear, campaign aides speculated that Romney's fate was sealed when he took very conservative positions on issues like immigration during the primary campaign.
But Romney seemed satisfied, having fought to the very end.
ROMNEY: Like so many of you, Paul and I have left everything on the field. We have given our all to this campaign.
SHAPIRO: And he restated those principles of bipartisanship that have been such a key part of his campaign for the last week.
ROMNEY: The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work and we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.
SHAPIRO: Mitt Romney is 65 years old. He's unlikely to run for office again. But during that final flight yesterday on the plane emblazoned with his name, Romney seemed wholly content with the contest that he'd waged. He acknowledged some possibility that the race would not go his way, but then he said, I have a family and a life that are important to me, win or lose. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.