President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney joined their running mates in rallying thousands of supporters in must-win battleground states Tuesday as they entered the final, frenzied, two-week stretch of the presidential race.
Obama continued with a familiar line of attack, arguing that Romney has shifted positions on key issues to win voters.
“Trust matters,” a shirt-sleeved Obama told a crowd estimated at 9,500 at a park in Dayton, Ohio. “You know, Ohio, you know me. You know I mean what I say and I do what I’m going to do. You know that I will make the tough decision, even when it’s not popular.”
Romney criticized the president for answering Republicans’ charge of having no second-term agenda by distributing a 20-page pamphlet and a new TV ad with already-introduced plans. Romney’s campaign promptly dubbed it a “glossy panic button.”
“That’s why his campaign is taking on water and our campaign is full steam ahead,” the former Massachusetts governor told 6,000 people at an outdoor pavilion in Henderson, Nev. “Attacks on me are not an agenda.”
Obama campaigned in Florida and Ohio. Romney appeared in Nevada before holding an evening rally in Colorado with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and singers Kid Rock and Rodney Atkins. Together, the two campaigns introduced four new ads Tuesday, including a pair in which the men speak directly into the cameras as they make their final pitches to undecided voters in swing states, who’ll determine the winner.
Obama and Romney participated in their third debate Monday night in Florida. It marked their final joint appearance before the Nov. 6 election.
Initial polls found voters split on who won the debate, with the president taking a slight edge. Romney’s stronger performance in the first debate Oct. 3 led to his steady uptick in the polls. He remains ahead in overall national rankings, according to a compilation of surveys by the website RealClearPolitics, though Obama continues to lead in some battleground states, including Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa.
A new Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll released late Tuesday found a statistical dead heat with Romney at 49 percent and Obama at 48 percent among likely voters. Nearly all interviews were conducted before the final debate.
In Nevada, Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, his vice presidential nominee, sought to portray their campaign as picking up momentum as part of “a movement across the country, as people are realizing we can do a better job than the past four years.”
“We can handle two more weeks of campaigning, but we can’t handle four more years of what he’s given us,” Romney said, ticking off unemployment numbers, sinking housing costs and rising gas prices. He said he’d deliver 12 million new jobs, raise take-home pay and cap spending.
“The president’s approach to creating jobs is another stimulus,” Romney said to shouts of derision from the audience. "How’d the first one work out? . . . His vision for the future is a repeat of the past.”
Kevin Kersey, 41, who attended the rally along with his wife and 3-year-old namesake, said he supported Romney because of the candidate’s business experience.
“That’s what we need in that office, a businessman, someone with private-sector experience,” said Kersey, of Henderson, who owns a pool service company. “We need a businessman to run this country.”
A fired-up Obama began his day speaking to 11,000 in the South Florida city of Delray Beach before joining Vice President Joe Biden in Ohio, where he accused Romney of coming down with a case of “Romnesia” – forgetting or abandoning his previous positions.
“If you said that you love American cars during the debate, you’re a car guy, but you wrote an article titled ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,’ you definitely have a case of ‘Romnesia,’ ” the president said to cheers.
Romney, who’s promoted a more centrist message in recent weeks, has been under fire for softening or changing his views on a number of policies, including immigration, tax cuts and abortion.
Obama reminded the crowd that he’d backed the auto industry bailout, a move that Romney opposed. While Detroit and Michigan have a reputation as the auto capital of America, Ohio also is the home of several automobile plants and an auto parts industry. One in eight Ohio jobs is linked to the industry.
“Folks don’t remember what we did with the auto industry. It wasn’t popular when we did it. It wasn’t even popular in Michigan and Ohio. But it was necessary,” the president said.
Obama spoke Tuesday about his newly released agenda, which included little that hadn’t been proposed before. It stresses classic Obama themes such as “building an economy from the middle class out” and promising 1 million more manufacturing jobs by 2016, keeping the 2010 federal health care law in place and recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers.
“I’ve laid out a plan for jobs and middle-class security. And unlike Mitt Romney, I’m actually proud to talk about what’s in it, because my plan actually will move America forward,” the president said in Florida. Romney hasn’t specified all the steps he’d take to reduce the federal budget deficit by trillions of dollars.
Richard Clay Dixon, who served as the mayor of Dayton from 1987 to 1994, said he was confident that Obama would win Ohio and re-election. He just wishes the race weren’t so close.
“It’s closer than we would like. At one time he was 10 points ahead,” he said. “But with the early voting, we’re doing a good job in getting people out.”