Obama v Romney: The Final Push

Barack Obama Campaign Stop

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Saturday began the last frantic days of campaigning in their battle for the White House by criss-crossing America's key swing states.

Obama's team was planning a series of large events aimed at drawing big crowds. His closing weekend included two joint events with former president Bill Clinton: a rally on Saturday night in Virginia and an event on Sunday in New Hampshire.

At a rally in Ohio – the most important swing state in the contest – Obama touted his first-term record and promised that he would do more to get America's struggling economy back on track. "We've made real progress these past four years. But Ohio, we're here today because we all know we've got more work to do," he told the crowd in the town of Mentor. "As long as there's a single American who wants a job and still can't find work; as long as there are families who are working harder and harder but are still falling behind; as long as there's a child anywhere in this country who is languishing in poverty, or barred from opportunity, we got more work to do," he added.

Though national polls show a race that is virtually tied, it appears that Obama has maintained a slim but steady lead in the swing states, making him the favourite of most media pundits as the election comes to a close. Influential New York Times election blogger Nate Silver put Obama's current chances of winning at around 80%. The latest Wall Street Journal/Marist/NBC poll in Ohio put Obama up by six points in a state that no Republican challenger has ever won the White House without. But elsewhere things were more fluid. In Florida one poll early on Saturday morning showed Obama with a two-point lead, while another claimed Romney was six points ahead.

Both campaigns tried to claim a boost from the jobs numbers released on Friday in an election in which the economy, and the fragility of America's recovery, has been the core issue. Obama's team pointed to a better than expected number of new jobs at 171,000. But Romney and other Republican figures seized on the rise in the nation's jobless rate to 7.9%, though that increase was largely due to people returning to the job market to look for work. Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.

Romney and his team were not letting up with their message that change was sorely needed in order to get America's economy growing again. He said Obama's first term had been marked by an endless series of broken promises, from job creation to working with Republicans. "He made a lot of promises, but they were promises he couldn't keep. I've made promises that I've kept and will keep for the American people," Romney told a crowd in Dubuque, Iowa, another vital swing state.

The Romney team also released a new TV ad that criticises Obama for saying "voting is the best revenge" at a rally in Friday in Ohio. That line has given Romney a new avenue of attack in trying to portray Obama as a divisive figure compared with Romney's own attempted image-makeover as a centrist. "Vote for revenge?" the Republican candidate asked at a rally in New Hampshire. ,"Let me tell you what I'd like to tell you: vote for love of country. It is time we lead America to a better place."

Both sides are now engaged in an all-out push. Virtually Romney's entire senior team has left the campaign's Boston headquarters to travel with him for the contest's final few days. Meanwhile, some of Obama's top aides from his historic campaign four years ago were planning to join him on the road, including Robert Gibbs, who served as Obama's first White House press secretary, and Reggie Love, the president's former personal aide.

Romney and the Republican party have raised some eyebrows by seeking to expand the political battleground to include Pennsylvania, despite the fact that a Democrat has won the state for the last five presidential contests. Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 10 percentage points in 2008 and the latest polls in the state give him a four- to five-point lead. Nevertheless, Romney will campaign in the Philadelphia suburbs on Sunday. Republican strategists say that they think the state is in play, pointing to a disillusioned Democratic base.

However, Democratic aides, including Obama's campaign guru, David Axelrod, have laughed off the Romney visit there as a piece of clever spin. But they are also seeking to head it off by adding television spending in the state, and have even sent Bill Clinton to campaign there on Monday. Vice-president Joe Biden has also visited the area.

Democrats have also put huge emphasis on trying to get their side to vote early. At some Democratic rallies, buses park outside waiting to take attendees to early voting booths. Though no votes will be counted until election day itself, several battleground states have released the party affiliation of people who have voted early. So far, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. Republicans have the lead in Colorado.

The immediate political impact of hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and other north-eastern states earlier in the week, was starting to recede. Though many of the worst-hit towns and neighbourhoods remained in trouble and without power, life was getting back to normal in many other areas. Power had been returned to nearly all of Manhattan and the military was taking steps to ease a dramatic fuel shortage in New Jersey that had led to huge queues and the need for a police presence at gas stations.

The main political consequence of the storm seemed to be the embrace of Obama by New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Christie, who has been an active surrogate for Romney and gave a high-profile speech at the Republican party convention in Tampa, was effusive in his praise for Obama's performance during the disaster. Images of the two men working together were seen as a coup for the president and have raised Republican hackles that Christie might have deliberately undermined Romney's campaign at the last minute to serve his own political needs.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Harris in New York, for The Observer on Saturday 3rd November 2012 19.56 Europe/London

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images: © Gage Skidmore, © Allison Harger