By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- Mitt Romney likes to say that he works harder than any other candidate, and for the last 38 hours he has been trying his best to prove it, logging more than 5,000 miles on a nonstop, coast-to-coast, adrenaline-fueled, get-every-last-vote-he-can campaign blitz.
He has flown from Nashville to Atlanta to Oklahoma City to Long Beach, Calif., and has now arrived here, at a Holiday Inn in Charleston at 6 a.m. where he will do TV interviews this morning and greet convention delegates, and then fly home to vote at Belmont Town Hall at about 2 p.m.
The longest leg of the trip -- from Atlanta to California - was scheduled at the last minute to allow Romney one more chance to turn out supporters in a state that is crucial to his chances of stopping Senator John McCain.
As his chartered plane crossed the intermountain West last night, with the traveling press and his staff in tow, Romney grabbed a pillow and a blanket and talked about trying to catch some shuteye on the floor of the plane, in the space underneath the tray tables.
"I want to sleep on the floor as long as the flight attendants say it’s OK," Romney said. "I’d rather sleep on the floor and let my feet go in the aisle and not have that cart crush my little toes. I can stretch out the whole night."
He joked, "It's been a while since I slept on the floor. Usually, if I'm in trouble, I sleep on the sofa."
Romney said he and his wife Ann talked by phone Sunday night about how amazing it will be to see his name on a ballot for president today.
"It’s something I would never have imagined," Romney said. "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 of people who will say, 'You’re the guy we’d like as our next president.'"
Before long, his plane landed in Long Beach and he was greeted by 500 enthusiastic supporters in an airplane hangar. He took the youngest of his 11 grandchildren, 2-month-old Nathan, in his arms, and took the stage to roaring applause. His sister Jane and brother Scott were among many relatives there cheering.
"Half the crowd out there was my family," Romney joked.
He told the crowd: "The course of our party is going to be set by what happens in California tomorrow."
California awards 170 delegates, the most of any state.
"California is huge," Romney said. "There's something happening here in California that's big. The people in California are really concentrating on this race with renewed attention and they're saying we want to have a conservative leader of our party, we want to have a president who will adhere to the principles that made our nation great."
After the rally, Romney climbed back on his plane, and took his usual seat up front, near his longtime friend Bob White and senior advisor from Massachusetts, Ronald C. Kaufman. He was reading a hardcover, “The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy” by the Lebanese scholar Walid Phares.
Most of the press and staff dozed during the four-hour red-eye flight to West Virginia, which landed at 5 a.m. But not Romney. Perhaps too wired by the looming 21-state contest that was just hours away, he did not sleep a wink, said Eric Fehrnstrom, his traveling press secretary.
"He tried," Fehrnstrom said. "That lasted about all of 30 seconds."