PHILADELPHIA: President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney focused on collecting big checks to fuel their 40-day sprint to Election Day, holding fundraising blitzes as their campaigns prepared for next week's high-stakes debate.
Obama offered themes of political unity during a fundraiser in Washington on Friday after an afternoon of debate prep at Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Romney, speaking at a Philadelphia fundraiser, promised to help Americans earn more money.
The Republican planned to spend much of his weekend preparing for his face-off with Obama on Wednesday - the first of three presidential debates and perhaps Romney's best chance to reverse the recent Obama gains suggested by opinion polls.
Obama's campaign, which has sought to lower expectations for the president's debate performance and raise them for his rival, released a political memo on Friday saying it expects Romney "to be a prepared, disciplined and aggressive debater."
Both men also worked international affairs into their politicking Friday with separate telephone calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Romney criticized Obama for not meeting with Netanyahu this week during his visit to the United Nations, where the prime minister declared the world has only until next summer to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb. Aides to both candidates did not mention that dire declaration in their reports of the calls.
But money was largely the focus of the day.
"My priority is job creation and growing incomes," Romney told about 200 donors who paid between $2,500 and $50,000 to hear his remarks. "My priority is not trying to punish people who have been successful."
The former businessman's remarks came at the first of three private fundraisers sandwiched around a midday rally. Obama kept close to Washington with a schedule of three fundraisers of his own, including one with tickets starting at $250 and going as high as $10,000 per couple.
"I'm not fighting to create Democrat or Republican jobs," Obama told an audience of donors near the White House. "I'm fighting to create American jobs."
In an election where the two sides already have collected more than $1 billion, each campaign has committed millions more they haven't yet raised to help blanket key states with television ads, drive national voter turnout operations and support massive teams of paid staff and consultants.
Romney and the Republican Party had raised about $536 million through the end of August, the most recent reporting data available. Obama and the Democratic Party had collected about $655 million through the same period.
Both camps have been spending furiously, mostly on expensive television advertising in a handful of battleground states whose voters are neither reliably Democratic nor Republican. The U.S. president is chosen in state-by-state contests rather than by national popular vote.