WASHINGTON: Somebody in the White House race is being economical with the truth -- because both sides say they are winning.
A devious game of bluff and spin is unfolding as campaign aides shape the political endgame over voters scattered across suburbs and prairies, mountains and deserts who will decide on November 6 who is the next president.
With the race down to an unlucky for someone last 13 days, after the most compelling set of presidential debates in history, President Barack Obama's high command insists he is poised for victory.
But confidence is blooming on Republican Mitt Romney's plane that after months lagging behind, their man is building a wave that could crest at the White House.
"These debates have supercharged our campaign," Romney said in Nevada Tuesday, declaring Obama's effort was "slipping" and his was gaining steam.
Ahead lie long days of snap decisions on resources and where to fight, frenzied get-out-the-vote efforts and tears of joy and defeat, as Romney and Obama burn through jet fuel and roar themselves hoarse before huge crowds.
Democrats are cheered by the president's strong comeback in the final two debates, after his shockingly disengaged showing in the first eroded a moderate lead he had spent months building.
Obama aides quickly tried to squelch a growing media narrative of a rising Romney Tuesday, after Obama's failure to knock him out in the debates, and the Republican's clear erosion of the president's cushion in opinion polls.
"We feel strongly that we have the winning hand," Obama's senior political aide David Axelrod said Tuesday. "This is a race we believe we're leading nationally and we're leading in these battleground states."
Since winning 270 electoral votes needed to capture the White House may depend on who turns out core voters in the biggest numbers, Obama can ill afford to risk voter enthusiasm with storylines predicting defeat.
Romney's crew meanwhile seems to be having trouble keeping a lid on their excitement.
"We're going to win ... seriously, 305 electoral votes," a Romney advisor was quoted as saying Monday in Politico's Playbook, a daily tipsheet and conventional wisdom setter.
That kind of bullishness would have been unthinkable before the first debate, when talk was more about when Republican money men would peel away from the ticket topper.
Romney operatives have for months posited the idea that undecided voters, down on the president in a tough economy, would tip their way in the final weeks.
Republicans can make a good case that is happening now, as Romney leads several daily tracking polls, has tied others, and is up in several of the eight crucial swing states that the president uniformly led a few weeks ago.
Romney's team feels good about the biggest battle ground Florida and trends in North Carolina and in tied-up Virginia, all Obama states in 2008.
"Florida's one of those states, it's like a freight liner, and once it turns - and I think it's turned - it's hard to turn back," Madden said on a state where Romney leads the RealClearPolitics polling average by nearly two points.
But the Obama team has an opposite, and equally credible view of the election, and says Republicans have bought into an electoral mirage.
"We know what we know and they know what they know. And I'm confident that we're going to win this race, and we'll know who's bluffing and who isn't in two weeks. And I'm looking forward to it," said Axelrod.
The campaign is right to note that it always said the slow economic recovery would mean nervous, deadlocked days as the election approaches.
"We know we have 14 days to go. This race is going to be incredibly close -- razor thin in some places -- until the end," said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
"But we're up or tied within the margin of error in every single swing state."
Obama's Chicago headquarters says national polls that Romney leads are irrelevant to the state-by-state path a candidate must build to the White House and misrepresent the likely electorate.
Campaign manager Jim Messina said Democrats will expand the electorate from 2008, meaning more of the president's coalition, including newly registered African Americans and Hispanic voters will influence the outcome.
"More of them will vote for President Obama in the states that will decide this election," he said.
Messina said Obama was performing well in early voting in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nevada, which would offer him a route to a second term.
He disputed Republican claims Obama was simply running up the score with people who would vote for him anyway, saying the campaign was targeting voters who were not highly committed.
The Obama brain trust has been building a sophisticated turnout machine for a close election for two years and has a track record of busting conventional electoral wisdom.
In 2008, the same team reinvented the Democratic nominating process to beat Hillary Clinton and out thought Republicans to capture the White House, so despite Democratic skittishness, smart money will not desert them yet.