TAMPA/WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama set out to block Mitt Romney’s road to the White House Thursday on the second day of a nonstop 40-hour blitz of states that will decide the election.
Obama landed in balmy Florida before dawn after a flight across three time zones, following a late night rally in Las Vegas and a trip into the bowels of Sin City’s plush Bellagio casino hotel to rally union workers.
The president was appearing in Florida, Virginia and Ohio, and if he can win just one of those three key swing states, and pick up a few smaller battlegrounds, he could all but assure himself of a second four-year term.
“I have come to Florida today to ask for your vote,” Obama told a loud crowd of 8,500 people who gathered in Tampa despite the early hour.
“We have come too far to turn back now,” said Obama, his voice raspy with fatigue.
Averages of recent polls have shown Republican nominee Romney may be up slightly in Florida and Virginia, which Obama, in 2008, was the first Democrat to win since 1964, but the president appears to have a consistent edge in Ohio.
Republican Romney knows the stakes in Ohio – no Republican has been elected president without the rust belt battleground – and was spending the whole day in the state
Twelve days from the election on Nov. 6, Obama got a symbolic boost in the neck-and-neck race, securing the endorsement of former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012, and I’ll be voting for him and for Vice President Joe Biden next month,” Powell told CBS “This Morning”.
Powell traced recent improvements in the economy to Obama and praised him as a steely commander-in-chief.
“I also saw the president get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars.
“I think that the actions he’s taken with respect to protecting us from terrorism have been very, very solid.”
Another political heavyweight also stepped up his support for Obama: Popular former President Bill Clinton announced plans to campaign with Obama in Florida Monday.
Obama campaigned into the late hours Wednesday night in Nevada, after visiting Iowa, Colorado and California, all before jumping aboard Air Force One for a “red eye” flight to Florida.
On NBC’s “Tonight with Jay Leno” Obama jabbed old antagonist Donald Trump, who revived the conspiracy theory over his birthplace.
“This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya,” joked Obama, who was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and a white American mother.
“When we finally moved to America, I thought it would be over,” the president said with a beaming grin, though he admitted that, in reality, he had never met the flamboyant property mogul.
Trump earlier offered to pay $5 million to a charity of Obama’s choice if the president would release his college records and passport applications, as he continued to press his case that Obama’s past hides embarrassing secrets.
Romney was also on the trail in the battleground states Wednesday, appearing in Reno, Nevada and Iowa, again seeking to build an impression that the former governor’s recent polling surge can be sustained in the final days of the campaign.
“The Obama campaign is slipping because it can’t find an agenda to help the American families,” Romney said.
“I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic, not just about winning ... we are going to win by the way,” Romney said.
Wednesday, Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood made Romney’s day, urging Americans to join him in supporting the Republican White House challenger in a TV ad against Obama.
The gruff-voiced “Dirty Harry” movie star said four more years of Obama would mean four more years of policies that have left America “knocked down,” with 23 million people unable to find work.
“Our country just couldn’t survive that,” said Eastwood, 82. “We need someone who can turn it around fast. That man is Mitt Romney. There is not much time left and the future of our country is at stake.”
The pro-Republican ad was part of a $12.6 million ad buy from American Crossroads, a so-called super PAC outside group that can accept and spend unlimited contributions, that includes two other spots.
“Bow” pounces on Obama’s China policy – “The more Obama borrows from China, the more we’ll have to bow to China,” a narrator says – while “Survive” targets his alleged lack of support for small business.
The 30-second ads are set to air in seven hotly contested states ahead of the Nov. 6 vote.
But Romney again saw his hopes of leveling a devastating attack on the president’s economic record frustrated by another row over the Republican Party’s attitude to women’s health issues and abortion.
Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said that pregnancy caused by rape was “something God intended to happen,” offering an opening for the Obama campaign, which said Romney backs 1950s-style social policies.
“I don’t think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health care decisions for women. Women can make those decisions themselves,” Obama said to a large cheer in Tampa.
Wednesday, he told Leno, “Rape is rape. It is a crime.”
The row put Romney in an awkward spot with women voters, who already back Obama in larger numbers and whose support could prove decisive in knife-edge state races on Nov. 6.