DELRAY BEACH, Florida: President Barack Obama told voters Tuesday that Republican rival Mitt Romney shifts his policy positions and cannot be trusted to deal honestly with the public as the presidential campaign entered its frantic final weeks.
After three televised debates that have boosted Romney’s standing in opinion polls before the Nov. 6 election, Obama delivered what is likely to be his closing argument: that, unlike Romney, he has been honest with voters about his plans to deliver a broadly shared prosperity over the next four years.
“There is no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust,” Obama told a rally of 11,000 people in Florida. “Everything he’s doing right now is trying to hide his real positions in order to win this election.”
That argument was laid out by Obama in Monday night’s debate with repeated accusations that Romney has shifted numerous policy positions since the Republican presidential primaries, when he was targeting his party’s conservative base.
Obama unveiled a glossy booklet outlining his second-term agenda, which will serve as an important prop for his massive grassroots network. The campaign said it will print 3.5 million copies for volunteers to distribute to friends and relatives and hand out in door-knocking campaigns.
The booklet contains no new proposals, but could help rebut what Romney aides say will be their campaign’s central message in the weeks to come: that the country cannot afford another four years of an Obama presidency because he has no plan to fix the sluggish economy.
Romney allies said Obama’s aggressive performance in Monday’s debate underscored his lack of new ideas.
“What we got from President Obama were mostly attacks on Mitt Romney. That’s not an agenda,” Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
In their final showdown, Obama accused the former Massachusetts governor of a reckless and inconsistent approach to international affairs. Romney played down his disagreements with Obama as he sought to present a reassuring image to a war-weary public.
Voters polled after the debate said Obama dominated the exchange, an assessment shared by many political observers. However, Romney avoided gaffes that would disqualify him in the eyes of voters and emerged from the three debates with an energized base, a full war chest and a sense of momentum.
Most importantly, nearly half the electorate now sees him as a plausible president. “He passed the commander in chief test and, in our view, emerged looking more like a winner,” wrote Charles Gabriel, an analyst with the political-intelligence group Capital Alpha Partners. “A loss by the president is seeming more viable by the day.”
Obama holds a narrow advantage in the handful of battleground states that will decide the election, most notably Ohio, which has been buoyed by his bailout of the domestic auto industry.
But Romney appears to be firming up his lead in North Carolina, a state Obama had hoped to carry, and his campaign is pushing to put Democratic-leaning states like Wisconsin in play.
Florida is also a critical swing state in the election, and most polls show Romney leading there by a narrow margin.
The Obama campaign hopes to lock in support early in an election where turnout will be a major factor, especially in states as tight as Florida.
Statistics compiled by the Miami Herald show that Republicans have a slight edge among the 830,000 voters who have cast their ballots by mail already. Democrats hope to even the score with early in-person voting, which starts Saturday.
Obama leads Romney among likely voters by a statistically insignificant margin of 1 percentage point, according to an online Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll released Tuesday.
Obama supporters say they have expected a close race all along, given the polarized electorate and the sluggish economy. “You knew this election was going to tighten up no matter who our opponent was,” Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS’ “This Morning.”