WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama set off on a marathon, two-day campaign journey Wednesday as he tries to break out of the neck-and-neck race with Republican challenger Mitt Romney with just 13 days left before voters cast their ballots on Nov. 6.
The U.S. president touched down in five states and made an appearance on a popular late-night television program. He is hammering Romney over his sudden shift to moderate positions both at home and abroad after months of campaigning as a hard-right conservative.
Romney, looking to sustain momentum that grew out his overwhelming victory in the first presidential debate three weeks ago, is bashing Obama as a leader who has failed to bring the economy back to full speed after the Great Recession and warning that re-electing the president is a prescription for continuing hard times.
Both men are making extraordinary efforts to sway the small pool of undecided voters while imploring their millions of supporters to vote, particularly in key battleground states such as Ohio and Iowa where early voting is already under way.
Obama planned a short stop in Chicago Thursday to cast his own vote – the first time an incumbent president has opted for early voting.
The election map has shrunk to no more than nine of the 50 U.S. states, and that’s where both candidates will be spending virtually all of their time in the final days before the election.
Residents in those so-called battleground states do not reliably vote either Republican or Democrat. The states assume outsized importance because the president is chosen according to state-by-state contests, not the national popular vote.
Obama was planning to cover 8,500 kilometers Wednesday in the most-traveled single day of his re-election bid. He was going from Washington to Iowa, Colorado, California and Nevada, and then overnight to Florida. It was the first time Obama was spending the night flying on Air Force One for a domestic trip but far from unprecedented by incumbents scrambling to keep their job.
Obama will break for an appearance on the widely watched “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and make calls to voters from the plane.
Romney, too, was picking up the pace. He was campaigning Wednesday in Nevada and Iowa before a three-stop campaign in Ohio Thursday.
Romney told a crowd of 10,000 supporters Tuesday that Obama’s promise of more of the same is “why he’s slipping and it’s why we’re gaining.”
Obama’s campaign insisted that the president was holding on to a slight lead in most of the nine battleground states – Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire.
“We have the ball, we have the lead,” Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod insisted.
Obama’s challenge is to convince voters who may be hurting financially that he is better qualified to lead the country back to economic prosperity than Romney, who made a fortune as the head of a private equity firm.
The Obama campaign responded to the complaint that the president had, after more than a year of speeches, failed to articulate his second-term vision. The campaign produced a 20-page booklet called the “Blueprint for America’s Future” outlining his proposals and promised to distribute millions of copies. The plan includes spending more on education, boosting U.S. manufacturing jobs and raising taxes on the wealthy.
Obama is trying to capitalize on polls that show voters see him as more trustworthy than Romney. A Washington Post/ABC News poll last week showed 55 percent of likely voters said Obama is “honest and trustworthy” compared to 47 percent who felt that way about Romney.
The president has spiced his rhetoric with humor to temper his underlying charge – that Romney is lying about what he would do as president.
“We joke about Gov. Romney being all over the map, but it speaks to something important – it speaks of trust,” Obama said at a rally in Ohio. “Trust matters. You want to know that the person who’s applying to be your president and commander-in-chief is trustworthy, that he means what he says.”
Obama’s remarks came after Monday night’s final debate, where Romney revealed dramatic shifts to the center on foreign policy and largely expressed agreement with how Obama has conducted U.S. foreign policy.