The crowds tell the story. As Election Day nears, Mitt Romney is drawing large and excited throngs.

Look to dusty Iowa cornfields, rain-soaked Virginia parks, the muddy fields of the Shelby County Fairgrounds, where a crowd of 9,500 — almost half of this western Ohio town — gathered among the barns and stables on a frigid October evening this week to glimpse the Republican presidential contender.

“Where else would we want to be?” said one of the shivering faithful, Judy Cartwright, a 71-year-old nurse from Sidney. “I want to see the next president of the United States.”

Romney’s debate performance against President Barack Obama last week — and his energetic appearances following it up — have fueled a rise in enthusiasm on the campaign trail. Whether or not it will translate into votes, polls do suggest that Republicans are fired up. It’s a welcome development for the Republican businessman, who is hardly a natural politician and has long struggled to match Obama’s ability to inspire excitement.

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