ABOARD EXTRA AIRWAYS FLIGHT 314 – It took a 37-hour trip to do something that eight rivals and a 12-month campaign couldn't: muss Mitt Romney's hair.
The Republican presidential contender's signature coif was in disarray when he touched down in Charleston, W.Va., at 5 a.m. Tuesday amid a more than 5,000-mile, coast-to-coast-to-coast dash aimed at bettering rival John McCain in the Super Tuesday nominating contests.
After flitting from Nashville, Tenn., to Atlanta to Oklahoma City to Long Beach, Calif., on Monday, Romney turned around and flew a redeye to Charleston, W.Va., so he could address the GOP state convention Tuesday morning.
The overnight flight left Romney with a bad case of bed-head, but 30 seconds in the forward lavatory with a comb and some water and — Shazam! — he was good as new.
Romney hoped his odyssey would not only help him win West Virginia and the other states he visited heading west, but most particularly in California, which was holding a pivotal primary.
McCain was endorsed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but late polls showed Romney running neck-and-neck. Delegates are awarded to the top vote-getter in each of the state's 53 congressional districts.
"We said, you know, something's happening out in California; we got to get back to California," he told a crowd of about 1,000 who gathered for an evening rally in a Long Beach airport hangar. Among them were about 25 members of Romney's extended family.
When he kicked off his journey in Tennessee on Monday morning, Romney declared, "If I win California, that means you're going to have a conservative in the White House."
Late that afternoon, as he flew toward the Rocky Mountains, Romney came back to joke with his traveling press corps before settling into a seat at the front of his chartered Boeing 737 for the remainder of the flight to the West Coast.
The former Massachusetts governor, who tries to keep his body clock on East Coast time wherever he travels in the country, said he would sleep on the return flight, aided by a pillow, pink fleece blanket and inflatable mattress his campaign staff brought aboard in Oklahoma.
"I want to sleep on the floor as long as the flight attendants say it's OK, because they need to go up and down the aisle," Romney said. "My feet will hang out into the aisle, but I'd rather sleep on the floor."
Romney joked: "It's been a while since I slept on the floor; usually if I'm in trouble, I sleep on the sofa." He said his last actual floor slumber occurred about a decade ago when he went camping with one of his five sons.
As it turned out, Romney traded his pink blanket for a tan one, and confined himself to a pair of business-class seats at the front of the plane.
His entourage, including his brother, Scott, and longtime friend, Bob White, spread out through the rest of the plane, one person on each side of the aisle across the 26 rows of seats. All were given blankets and pillows, along with a takeout dinner from the Outback steakhouse.
White and Ron Kaufman, a Washington lobbyist who serves as a senior adviser to Romney, also scooped ice cream for the passengers as they boarded in Long Beach.
After addressing convention delegates in West Virginia, Romney planned to fly to Massachusetts to vote in his hometown, the Boston suburb of Belmont.
He said he and his wife, Ann, had talked Sunday night about the prospect of walking into the voting booth and seeing his name listed as a candidate for president.
"It's something I would have never imagined," said the 60-year-old, whose late father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, sought the presidency in 1968.
"I mean, it's an honor, obviously, it's an enormous honor to even be considered as a candidate for president and to know that there will be hundreds of thousands and hopefully millions who will say, `You're the guy we'd like as our next president.' It's a very humbling honor," he added.
Romney then hoped to relax at home for the first time since he awoke there Jan. 8 — the morning of the New Hampshire primary — before attending a campaign party at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
"I feel excited," he told reporters as he flew west, "very eager for the day to come and to start counting results. It's going to be hard to go to sleep tomorrow night, because we won't hear from California probably until very, very late."