, CLEVELAND, Ohio, Nov 3 – US President Barack Obama and Republican foe Mitt Romney Saturday power into a final weekend of campaigning before handing their fates to voters after a bitter, gruelling White House race.
The rivals will chase one another through the battleground states that will decide Tuesday’s election, with Obama seeking to solidify his midwestern line of defense, while Romney seeks an eleventh hour breakthrough.
Obama will campaign in Ohio, the possible tipping point state, before heading to Wisconsin and Iowa, his trio of “firewall” battlegrounds ahead of a late night rally in Virginia, where he still hopes for an insurance win.
Romney, fresh from the biggest rally of his campaign, which drew around 18,000 people on a cold night in West Chester, Ohio, Friday will travel to New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado.
In a show of close combat on the last weekend of the campaign, both candidates will be in the eastern Iowa town of Dubuque, within hours of one another.
Romney warmed up for the frenzied last weekend with a huge rally in Ohio, bringing together his former primary rivals Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, along with Obama’s 2008 rival John McCain.
In all, 45 lawmakers and relatives of the candidate and running mate Paul Ryan — wearing Romney jackets — attended the rally near the Republican stronghold of Cincinnati.
“We’re almost home. One final push will get us there,” Romney said before a crowd police estimated to be at least 18,000 strong. “We are so very, very close. The door to a brighter future is there, it’s open, it’s waiting for us.”
Obama had earlier evaded a last-minute time bomb as the economy pumped out more jobs than expected in October, delivering a boost to his re-election hopes as the final weekend of campaigning begins.
Romney, however, seized on an uptick in the jobless rate by a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent to bemoan an economy at a “virtual standstill.”
After several weeks of polls suggesting a neck-and-neck race, there were new signs that Obama’s position, as he seeks a second term, may be solidifying.
National polls of the popular vote now mostly show a tied race or with either man up one point — but with time running out Obama’s position in key battleground states seems to be holding.
The candidate that wins the White House will need to mass 270 electoral votes on the state-by-state map.
Obama is asking voters for a second term, despite the sluggish economic recovery, while Romney is seeking a quick comeback for Republicans after George W. Bush left office in 2009 with the party in disarray.
All Obama’s polling leads were within the margin of error, however, and both campaigns, though expressing confidence, will face a nervous night as results roll in on Tuesday and test their assumptions about the race.
Obama, perhaps mindful of millions of Americans suffering from the lingering impact of the worst recession since the 1930s, avoided a triumphal tone on the jobs data that sent relief rippling through his campaign team.
“We have made real progress,” Obama said, in Hilliard, on the first stop of a day-long swing through small towns in Ohio, which could be a tipping point state in a tied-up election.
Romney highlighted the fact that, although the economy is creating jobs at a moderate pace, unemployment remains at historically high levels.
“For four years, President Obama’s policies have crushed America’s middle class,” Romney said in a statement.
“When I’m president, I’m going to make real changes that lead to a real recovery, so that the next four years are better than the last,” said Romney, who started his day in Wisconsin and ended it in Ohio.
The release of the final major economic data before the election had worried Obama aides who feared that a leap in the rate above the psychological eight percent mark could have sent late-deciding voters to Romney.
But although the data was far from spectacular — with 171,000 jobs created last month — there was enough in the report, including upward revisions of previous monthly figures, for Obama to argue the economy was improving.
Obama, campaigning in Ohio Friday repudiated Romney’s claim to being an agent of change, accusing him instead of trying to “massage the facts,” highlighting a Romney ad that claims that Chrysler plans to outsource jobs to China to produce its Jeep vehicles.
“I know we are close to an election, but this isn’t a game. These are people’s jobs. These are people’s lives,” Obama said, noting that auto bosses had directly contradicted Romney on the attack.
The president repeatedly touts his decision to bail out indebted US automakers in a politically unpopular 2009 move that helped restore the industry to health.
One in eight jobs in Ohio are linked to the sector, and Romney’s opposition to the bailout has emerged as a liability for the Republican.
A CNN/Opinion Research poll showed Obama up three points in Ohio, raising his average in the RealClearPolitics aggregate of opinion surveys in the state to 2.4 points.
The president also leads Romney in enough of the eight or so swing states to assure himself of the 270 electoral votes needed for re-election, if polling data is confirmed by voting.