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Presidential campaigns send prominent backers to swing states

Published: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012 12:43 a.m. CDT

On the final weekend of their deadlocked campaign, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney called forth every supporter they could muster to gain any possible edge they could find.

In a tiny New Hampshire town, four out-of-state surrogates for Romney chatted with the lunchtime crowd at a diner decorated with a pink Cadillac on stilts. In Reno, Nev., an Olympic speedskater talked up the Republican nominee. In Virginia, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina targeted voters in military communities. Two of Romney's sons campaigned door-to-door in Florida.

Not to be outdone, the Obama campaign sent out its stars on Saturday. Katy Perry, decked out in a body-hugging blue leather dress with the Obama campaign slogan "Forward" on it, rocked the stage before Obama's speech in Milwaukee. John Mellencamp did an acoustic rendition of "Small Town" in Dubuque, Iowa. Dave Matthews was scheduled to perform ahead of Obama's appearance Saturday night in Northern Virginia.

And at Cleveland State University, about 100 students were treated to an impromptu concert on Saturday morning by Stevie Wonder, who then went to an early voting center and spoke briefly on Obama's behalf on the steps of a church across the street.

"They are not mega events, but the kind of things that keep people interested and give them a sense of how important the ground game really is," explained Tom Rath, a Romney adviser who shepherded a surrogate foursome — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, former senator James Talent of Missouri and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee — through New Hampshire on Saturday.

Both campaigns tried to assert momentum in other ways, too. At Obama's Chicago headquarters, aides trumpeted favorable headlines from the Circleville Herald, a 6,600-circulation Ohio newspaper, and Ha'aretz, the Israeli news source. And at Romney's Boston headquarters, aides tried to gin up a controversy over Obama's remark Friday that voting against Romney is "the best revenge," producing a new ad overnight and trying to pump outrage across Twitter.

The candidates themselves flew in and out of many of the same battleground states, delivering the same dueling messages: the incumbent trying to convince the nation that he has made real progress and the challenger offering himself as an agent of change.

Romney began his weekend in his adopted home state of New Hampshire, where he was hoping to draw undecided voters and, perhaps, Obama supporters to his side.

"I need you to spend some time in the next three days to see neighbors — and maybe ones with an Obama sign in front of their home — and just go by and say, 'Look, let's talk this through a bit.' Because, you see, President Obama came into office with so many promises and he's fallen so far short," Romney told an enthusiastic crowd at the airport in Newington, N.H.

Romney then walked a few hundred yards across the tarmac to board his plane en route to Iowa, and on to Colorado. By the time he goes to sleep in his own bed Monday night, the Republican nominee will have touched down in eight battleground states, some of them multiple times.

During his first stop in Mentor, Ohio, Obama bounded onto a stage at the local high school, where 4,000 supporters had gathered. His voice was raspy and hoarse, a product, campaign aides said, of a busy campaign schedule combined with regular conference calls to officials dealing with the response to Hurricane Sandy.

The president warned that his rivals are counting on his supporters being "so worn down by all the squabbling and all the dysfunction, that you'll finally just give up and walk away and put them back in power."

"No!" the audience responded.

"That's what they're counting on," Obama continued. "In other words, their bet is on cynicism. But, Ohio, my bet is on you. And by the way, I don't feel cynical. I feel hopeful — because of you."

Obama visited four states Saturday and is set to travel to four more on Sunday and three on Monday, ending with a final rally in Des Moines, in the state that launched the onetime underdog to the presidency.

Obama's campaign, meanwhile, opened 5,100 "hyper-local offices" in living rooms, local stores and barbershops in battleground states to get "as close to individual voters as possible," according to campaign manager Jim Messina. Aides said volunteers would perform 700,000 shifts through Election Day.

In the Cleveland area, the Obama campaign distributed fliers noting that celebrity surrogates will stop by the key Cuyahoga County early voting site this weekend, including Vivica Fox, will.i.am, and Sophia Bush on Saturday, and John Legend, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Aisha Tyler on Sunday.

But it was former president Bill Clinton whom the campaign was counting on the most. With three rallies on Saturday in Virginia, including one that marked the first time he and Obama have been on the trail together, Clinton clocked in his 29th appearance for Obama since giving a speech at the Democratic National Convention. And he's set to do eight more, including appearing in Pennsylvania and North Carolina over the next two days — two states Obama has not visited since holding the convention in Charlotte, N.C. in early September.

"It doesn't take a poll to tell you that there is almost no one who can deliver a more compelling case about what it takes to manage the country through a challenging economic time and who is better suited to stand up for the middle class than President Clinton," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Clinton's appearances in states such as Minnesota and Pennsylvania — which Obama carried easily four years ago — showed that the Obama campaign had taken notice that Romney's side was making a late play in both states. And Obama's appearance in Wisconsin — he'll make another Monday — showed his concern about another state that he carried comfortably four years ago.

Romney has more than 60 surrogates, split into teams of three or four, fanning out across 11 battleground states this weekend.

While Romney has sought to appeal to moderate voters, many of his surrogates have offered red meat to the base. Introducing Romney in Dubuque, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa recalled mentioning Obama in front of his 3-year-old great-granddaughter and she said, "Grandpa, don't say that dirty word."

Friday night in West Chester, Ohio, where more than 40 Republican leaders joined Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan on stage, many of the introductory speakers tore into Obama over his handling of the killing of American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani suggested that if Romney was president, the attacks would have been avoided.

Romney's final campaign swing has been tinged with nostalgia. He is traveling with his wife, Ann, who had been keeping her own schedule, as well as a half-dozen advisers and intimates who have been at his side since he began his quest for the presidency five years ago.

As they boarded the plane in New Hampshire, Romney's advisers posed for pictures. And in Dubuque, where Romney made a grand entrance at an afternoon rally by descending the steps of his gleaming white and blue plane to the soundtrack of "Rudy," his strategists filmed the whole shebang on their iPhones, just for posterity.

"We've come a long way, you guys. We've been here a few times before right in this wonderful city," Romney told the crowd in Dubuque, where during the last campaign Ann once fell off a stage. ("I fell on da-butt in Dubuque," she likes to joke.)

"With great friends all around us, we've had some long days and some short nights, and we are almost there," Romney said.

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