Ohio, Oct 26 – In a spectacular finale to a 40-hour campaign sprint, US President Barack Obama launched a searing attack on Mitt Romney in Ohio, the state that may decide their election duel.
But Romney, rallying Republicans in the state’s aptly named town of Defiance, mocked Obama’s “incredibly shrinking” campaign and stole the president’s 2008 mantra, promising “big change” if he wins on November 6.
The latest sharp exchanges came as polls showed the White House up for grabs, with Romney ahead by a nose in the national picture, but Obama standing firm in the key swing states that could hand him a second, four-year term.
With Air Force One spotlighted against an ink black sky, a hoarse but energized Obama lambasted Romney for opposing his bailout of the auto industry, which supports one in eight jobs in Ohio, a perennial battleground.
“I refused to walk away from those workers, I refused to walk away from those jobs. I bet on American workers. I would do it again because that bet always pays off,” Obama roared, in a populist pitch for blue collar votes.
Obama ended an eight state tour of more than 7,000 miles with 11 days to go before he asks Americans to defy the omens of a sluggish economy and high unemployment by voting to renew his lease on the White House.
The president’s aides are privately signaling increasing confidence that he will prevail. But Romney also sought to convince his supporters, that he, not Obama has the momentum, in the final straight.
“We want change. We want big change. We’re ready,” Romney told a 12,000 strong crowd in Defiance, accusing the incumbent Democrat of waging a nasty, negative, diminished campaign drained of new ideas.
“This is a time for big challenges, and a time of big opportunities, we have a big choice. And frankly we’re going to elect a president that’s willing to make big changes, and I will,” Romney, a former Massachusetts governor said.
Romney blames Obama for the state of the sluggish economy, while the president warns Americans have come too far out of recession to risk reversing the progress under Republicans.
Earlier, Obama became the first sitting president to cast an early vote, in a successful grab for news coverage also designed to mobilize his supporters to register their ballots early.
In a slightly incongruous scene, Obama, possibly the most famous man in the world, returned to a neighborhood near his vacant Chicago home amid all the hullabaloo of a presidential motorcade and presented his ID for scrutiny.
Then he stood behind a touch screen machine to cast his vote, in a move designed to convince supporters to also go to the polls early, to help him build up a lead over Romney.
Later, he warned Chicago campaign workers: “If we let up and our voters don’t turn out, we could lose this election. Now the good news is, if our voters do turn out, we will definitely win the election.”
Hours later, in a striking example of the theatrical power possessed by an incumbent president running for re-election, Obama landed before 12,000 people who had waited hours at a lakefront airport in gritty Cleveland.
The closer the election gets, the more the bad feeling between Romney and Obama seems to show.
In a Rolling Stone interview published Thursday, Obama told the magazine’s executive editor Eric Bates, that children had excellent political instincts and could spot a “bullshitter.”
The comment was widely viewed as a jab at Romney, who Obama has accused of lacking principle and shifting positions for political gain and prompted an acidic response from Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
“President Obama is rattled and on the defensive. He’s running on empty and has nothing left but attacks and insults. It’s unfortunate he has to close the final days of the campaign this way,” he said.
Obama’s team says he still has multiple routes to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House and he is literally playing on an extended political map.
In two days, he toured battlegrounds Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, stopped in California to appear on “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and made it home to Chicago.
Romney has also done his share of map hopping, but Thursday focused squarely on Ohio where the latest average of polls by the RealClearPolitics website had Obama up by two points.
NBC/Wall Street Journal polls Thursday showed Obama up three points on Romney in Nevada, where he also leads early voting, and tied with Romney in the Rocky Mountain battleground of Colorado.
Romney though was up three points in an ABC News/Washington Post poll of likely voters Thursday.
The Republican, meanwhile, struggled for another day to shrug off a controversy about comments about rape and abortion by Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, whom he has endorsed.
Mourdock had said pregnancy caused by rape was “something God intended to happen” offering an opening for the Obama campaign, which accuses Romney of backing a return to 1950s-era social policies.
Romney’s team says their candidate does not agree with Mourdock’s views but still supports him in the Senate race, and the Republican nominee ignored a question posed by a reporter on the issue on Thursday.