With eye on November, Romney makes an early play in North Carolina

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at an election-night rally April 3, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. According to early results, Romney won the D.C, Maryland and Wisconson primaries today with a total of 98 delegates at stake.
Getty Images/Scott Olson
Getty Images/Scott Olson

(CBS News) Mitt Romney is the prince of punctuality. Tardiness being the ultimate affront to the successful businessman, he'd rather sprint to campaign events or skype in from his bus so as not to be a moment late at all costs. Tomorrow, he'll be delivering a speech in North Carolina early. Three months early, to be exact.

Romney is delivering an address tomorrow that his campaign is calling a "prebuttal" to the Democratic National Convention, which will take place the first week of September. The speech is supposed to highlight President Obama's failed policies and failed promises from the last convention. This is not a new theme for Romney, but according to one member of his campaign, the optics of the speech -- which will take place on a Charlotte rooftop overlooking the Bank of America stadium where Obama will accept his party's endorsement -- are just as important as the message.

The symbolism is intended to be long lasting, but the planning that went into it was relatively quick. The speech came together within the last ten days, when the timing of Rick Santorum exiting the race last week overlapped with two fundraisers -- one in Charlotte, one in Raleigh -- already planned for tomorrow.

That is not to say that Romney has not had his sights set on the Tar Heel State for some time. One Romney staff member with knowledge of the campaign's Southern strategy said that while the campaign has no paid staff members or headquarters in North Carolina, it has been focused on efforts there since the day Romney announced his candidacy. The campaign also has over 400 active volunteers in the state who attend community meetings and Tea Party gatherings, and try to recruit other Romney supporters across the state.

"I think the convention being here is a good thing because it's really, really energized the Republican volunteers, the activists, they're all really fired up. They feel like the convention's here, they're not going to lose the state again," said the adviser, speaking on background.

The Obama campaign is not quivering, however, and scoffs at the notion that Romney, who will be making his first public campaign trip to the state tomorrow, holds a candle to the efforts it has made there.

Since his election in 2008, Obama's team has amassed 15 re-election offices across the state, and is continuing to grow. From the time he announced his official bid for re-election, the president himself has visited North Carolina five times.

Jeremy Bird, National Field Director for Obama For America, said that despite the drawn-out nature of the Republican presidential nomination process, "We made a commitment not to wait. To go in there early and build these relationships," he said.

Bird said that the convention's placement in North Carolina gives the Tar Heel State the "unique opportunity to be the spotlight of the nation," and that ultimately, "We can do as well or better" than they did in 2008, where Obama beat McCain by around 14,000 votes.

Tomorrow's speech will not be the first time that Romney has bracketed a major presidential address, despite not yet being the official Republican nominee. In January, he delivered "prebuttal" and "postbuttal" speeches to Mr. Obama's State of the Union. Those events were both held in Florida, where Romney was campaigning ahead of the state's primary. The Sunshine State will also play host to the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August.

On primary night in Denver this February, Romney also hearkened back to Mr. Obama's 2008 DNC convention speech, during which he accepted the Democratic nomination for the presidency, noting that "Candidate Obama said progress would be determined by whether the average American family saw its income go up instead of down."

"During the last four years, the median income has fallen by around 10 percent. Under his own definition, President Obama has failed," Romney said in February. "We will succeed!"

That evening was not a particularly good one for Romney: Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum won contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. Still, even after congratulating Santorum on his victories, Romney said that night that "I expect to become our nominee."

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