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With Ryan by his side, Romney rallies Virginians in debate victory lap

Mitt Romney Nomination RNC 2012
By Rachel Streitfeld

Fishersville, Virginia (CNN) — As favorable reviews of his debate performance continued rolling in, Mitt Romney sought to capitalize on the momentum from his first head-to-head match-up against President Obama at an energetic rally Thursday night in Virginia.

The GOP presidential nominee had a busy night: He reconnected with his running mate Paul Ryan, accepted the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and declared his day brightened by a pre-speech concert by country star Trace Adkins – all at a rollicking outdoor rally attended by more than 6,000 supporters in western Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

While Romney hewed largely to his usual stump speech, the audience erupted when he mentioned the previous night’s debate.

“Now last night was an important night for the country,” Romney said, as the audience responded with sustained cheers. “I got the chance to ask the president questions that people across the country have wanted to ask him,” including on the president’s health care plan and the economy.

“What you didn’t hear last night from the president is why it is the next four years are possibly going to be better than the last four years,” Romney continued later in his speech, circling back to the debate. “He doesn’t have a way to explain that, because he has the same policies for the next four years as he had for the last four years.”

Both Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan seized upon comments earlier in the day by Vice President Joe Biden, who said he and the president were in favor of letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

“The vice president blurted out the truth today,” Romney said. “They plan on raising taxes on the American people, and that will kill jobs. We will not let that happen.”

Many of the thousands of supporters wore orange caps emblazoned with the logo of the National Rifle Association, which endorsed Romney on Thursday. Prior to the former Massachusetts governor’s speech, spokesmen for the group harshly criticized both Obama and the national news media.

“Let’s send a message to national news media – their coverage of this race is a national disgrace,” said NRA Political Victory Fund Chairman Chris Cox. “We have a message for CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS: You will not decide the outcome of this election. We the people will decide the outcome of this election.”

Romney has had a sometimes-strained relationship with the NRA, but his running mate Paul Ryan touted his hunting experience in accepting the endorsement Thursday.

“I have my phone here. It’s got a blaze orange and camouflage cover, because it reminds me after we elect Mitt Romney president, I get to take my daughter deer hunting,” he said to cheers.

Romney will spend the next three days campaigning in Virginia and Florida, with a major foreign policy address slated for Monday at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.

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