GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney doesn't often fill big stadiums with cheering supporters, but that doesn't mean Romney is at a complete disadvantage when it comes to enthusiasm for his candidacy.
Despite being up against arguably one of the most charismatic presidents in generations, Romney's voters appear much more motivated to get to the polls than do the Democratic supporters of President Obama, surveys show.
"Republicans are a less demonstrative constituency," said University of Colorado Boulder political science professor Kenneth Bickers. "It doesn't mean they are not enthusiastic."
Indeed, enthusiasm for Romney is not always obvious on the campaign trail.
After a divisive primary season during which a succession of GOP candidates surpassed Romney in the polls only to crash and burn later, many voters consider Romney to be somewhat of a default nominee. That sentiment was still very much in evidence on the campaign trail recently.
"I'm excited about Mitt Romney," Julie Halberg told The Washington Examiner outside a Grand Junction, Colo., event. "But I would be more excited if Rick Santorum was the candidate."
Halfhearted backers like Halberg plan to show up and vote for Romney in November, though it's because they're so desperate to put a Republican back in the White House.
"I'm hopeful he can beat Barack Obama," Halberg said.
Still, Republican voters are far more motivated to vote, with recent polls showing Republicans are paying far closer attention to the campaign at the moment than Democrats. And the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican voter enthusiasm at 47 percent, far above Democratic voter enthusiasm at 32 percent.
If that enthusiasm translates into turnout at the polls in November, it could be a boon for Romney.
"This certainly suggests that Obama has the bigger problem in turning out the vote than Romney," said professor Bickers. "It suggest to me that there won't be the kind of Obama surge in voter turnout."
Romney's biggest advantage may be Obama's low approval ratings, which hover below 50 percent, on par with the ratings of past one-term presidents like Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Jimmy Carter. Like Obama, Bush and Carter saw their popularity dip in a weak economy.
Romney, meanwhile, is working to win over voters by campaigning aggressively on his plan to repair the economy and by highlighting Obama's failure to turn it around despite having three years in office.
Romney, who grew up wealthy, still appears stiff at smaller, intimate events, like his awkward mingling with volunteers at a Colorado Springs food bank last week. But with larger audiences, he's far more compelling, using talents honed as a corporate CEO to talk fluently about the nation's economic woes.
Among Romney's top targets are people like Halberg, who either backed another candidate in the primary or worry that Romney lacks the gusto to beat Obama, a politician who has packed stadiums.
"I thought of him as being kind of mild-mannered, but he's not, he came off as so forceful," said Patty Hemmer, a retired teacher from Grand Junction, who like so many voters had never actually seen Romney in person before.
"You hear all these reports that he doesn't connect," said Jack Robinson, another first-timer from Grand Junction, "but I thought he did."