, BURBANK, California, Oct 25 – President Barack Obama’s camp seized on “outrageous” comments about rape by one of Mitt Romney’s fellow Republicans, hoping to carve out a decisive edge among women voters.
Obama is barnstorming the country in what he hailed as an eight-state, 40-hour “campaign marathon extravaganza,” trying to shore up his re-election bid by building a firewall across the key battlegrounds.
Romney was on similar territory, telling voters in western swing state Nevada, where Obama was due later, that the president’s campaign in the neck-and-neck election boiled down to four words: “More of the same.”
And the Republican made a bold prediction of victory on November 6, despite signs that Obama holds a slight edge in the clutch states that will send one man to the 270 electoral votes needed for the presidency.
“The Obama campaign is slipping because it can’t find an agenda to help the American families,” Romney said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hours after Obama had left the state.
“I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic, not just about winning… we are going to win by the way…” Romney said.
But the Republican’s effort to focus on Obama’s economic record was complicated by a new row over comments by Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, once again throwing a spotlight on his party’s stance on women.
Mourdock said that pregnancy caused by rape was “something God intended to happen” and Obama aides quickly highlighted the fact that Romney, who it says backs 1950s style social policies, had endorsed the Indiana candidate.
“The Obama campaign is slipping because it can’t find an agenda to help the American families,” Romney said.
“The president felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women,” Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, adding that it was “perplexing” that Romney would not take down an ad featuring him endorsing Mourdock.
Obama, appearing on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” said that women should be trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies, in consultation with their doctors, and politicians should not intrude.
“I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas… rape is rape. It is a crime. These various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me, don’t make any sense to me.”
The row put Romney in an awkward spot with women voters, who already favor Obama in larger numbers and whose support could prove decisive in knife-edge races on November 6.
Romney enjoys strong support among evangelical voters and social conservatives, who oppose abortion as an article of faith and who form an important part of his base in battlegrounds like Ohio.
A new poll by Time magazine in the Midwestern Rust Belt state released Wednesday put Obama up by five points.
Many analysts think victory in Ohio would be enough to put Obama over the top in his quest for re-election.
There were also signs that Romney’s momentum of the last few weeks was abating. The Republican led a RealClearPolitics average of national polls by just 0.6 percent.
With just 13 days to go before he asks voters for a second term, Obama’s through-the-night, coast-to-coast trip was taking in six of the most contested swing states.
As Obama set off for Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, Psaki dismissed talk from Romney’s camp of “secret momentum”, insisting the president was leading or tied in all the key states.
She also branded Romney untrustworthy, accusing him of disguising “extremely conservative” positions on health policy and foreign affairs. “He has been untruthful about his positions with the American people,” she said.
Returning to Denver, the scene of his listless debating earlier this month opened the door for a Romney resurgence, Obama was energetic and fired-up, telling the crowd: “You know I mean what I say.”
The president, who has a well-appointed cabin in the nose of Air Force One, was to sleep on a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to Tampa later Wednesday.
On board, he took the opportunity to call thousands of undecided voters and campaign workers.
He also diverted from swing states to safe Democratic territory to tape his appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in Burbank, California and on Thursday will cast an early vote in his hometown, Chicago.
Light relief was provided by real estate mogul turned reality television star Donald Trump, a former Republican primary candidate, who had threatened a “major announcement” that would shake up the campaign.
Instead, he offered to pay $5 million dollars to a charity of Obama’s choice if the president releases his college records and passport applications — presumably in the hope they contain something embarrassing.
The stunt, from the most high-profile proponent of the debunked conspiracy theory that Obama was born in Africa and therefore disqualified from being president, was received with derision.
Obama lampooned Trump during his appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, saying the real estate tycoon’s feud with him dated back to “when we were growing up together in Kenya.”
“This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya,” Obama joked, after dashing to California to record the show, to be broadcast later Wednesday on NBC.
“We had constant run-ins on the soccer field, he wasn’t very good and resented it,” said Obama, who is the son of a white American mother and Kenyan father who was born in Hawaii.
“When we finally moved to America, I thought it would be over,” the president said, with a beaming grin, and admitted he had never actually met Trump.