Obama, Romney zero in on battleground states
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney continued to refine their closing arguments to voters Wednesday with an eye toward the handful of swing states and key demographic groups that will decide the election next month.
Both campaigns took time out to spin perceptions about which side had the momentum down the stretch in a race that remains essentially tied.
According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll, the contest remained unchanged from Tuesday, with 49 percent of likely voters nationally backing Romney and 48 percent supporting Obama.
Obama sat for an interview with Jay Leno and stumped in Iowa, Colorado and Nevada — states that have a combined 21 electoral votes — kicking off what he called a "48-hour fly-around marathon campaign extravaganza."
"We're going to pull an all-nighter," he said at a rally in Davenport, Iowa. "No sleep.''
Romney covered similar ground with large rallies in Nevada, Iowa and Ohio (30 combined electoral votes), claiming the label of front-runner, even though the path to 270 electoral votes still looks more challenging for the former Massachusetts governor than it does for Obama.
With the debates behind him, Romney is trying to build momentum this week, staging large and enthusiastic rallies while suggesting that the Obama campaign has stalled.
The Republican nominee, who lagged behind Obama for months this summer and into the fall, told some 2,500 supporters at a Reno arena that the debates were "propelling" his campaign.
"The Obama campaign is slipping and shrinking," Romney said. "The president can't seem to find an agenda to help America's families. Our campaign is a growing movement across this country where people recognize we're going to bring — build a brighter future for the American family, for every family in this great country."
Obama unveiled a glossy 20-page booklet Tuesday that details his agenda for a second term, which includes hiring 100,000 teachers and increasing manufacturing jobs.
The Obama team pushed back against the "Mittmentum" narrative, with top Obama strategist David Plouffe saying that the Romney team has "tried to take advantage of some of these national polls" some of which show Romney with slight lead.
"I believe they are overstating their electoral college situation, whether that is consistent with their data and their data's flawed, I don't know," he said.
The Obama campaign touted a formidable ground game in Virginia, which has a relatively low unemployment rate and a demographic mix of African American, young and college-educated voters who favored Obama in 2008.
"We've never stopped building the grass-roots campaign that we started in 2008," said Jeremy Bird, Obama's national field director. "We all know, and we've said from the beginning, that this will be a close election, and our grass-roots organization is going to make the difference."
Polls show a narrow race in Florida, where Obama is set to campaign Thursday, and in Virginia, where GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan was scheduled to appear the same day.
At Cleveland State University, Ryan delivered a speech Wednesday billed by the Romney campaign as a major policy speech on upward mobility. The university is in the heart of the city, which in turn anchors a Democrat-friendly industrial strip of Ohio along Lake Erie.
The speech marked an effort to cast Romney as more compassionate than he's given credit for, as polls show him trailing the president on the question of which candidate voters trust more to deal with the day-to-day economic concerns of middle-class voters.
Standing before a row of flags in the music building's plush auditorium, Ryan said, "We're still trying to measure compassion by how much government spends, not by how many people we help escape from poverty."
In his "Civil Society Speech," as it was labeled by the campaign, Ryan seemed to acknowledge that his party has not sufficiently conveyed its compassion for the poor or explained how it would help the disadvantaged.
"We don't always do a good job of laying out that vision. Mitt Romney, and I want to change that," Ryan said.
Ryan's speech came as both campaigns were aggressively courting female voters, who outnumbered male voters by 10 million at the nation's polls in 2008, and as Romney projects a more moderate stance on a host of issues, including abortion, immigration and foreign policy.
Even as he was pivoting to the center, Romney had to contend Wednesday with remarks by Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate for Senate in Indiana, who said in a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are "something that God intended to happen."
Democrats seized on the comments. They cut a campaign ad highlighting Romney's recent endorsement of Mourdock, hoping to link Romney to the more conservative wing of his party.
The Romney campaign — like those of other top Republicans in tight races — distanced itself from the comments.
"Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock, and Mr. Mourdock's comments do not reflect Governor Romney's views," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him."