DAVENPORT, Iowa – President Barack Obama is confidently predicting speedy second-term agreement with Republicans to reduce federal deficits and overhaul immigration laws, commenting before setting out Wednesday on a 40-hour campaign marathon through battleground states that could decide whether he’ll get the chance. Republican Mitt Romney looked to the Midwest for a breakthrough in a close race shadowed by a weak economy.
Romney declared, “We’re going to get this economy cooking again,” addressing a boisterous crowd in Reno, Nev., before flying back eastward to tend to his prospects in Ohio and Iowa. Romney urged audience members to consider their personal circumstances, and he said the outcome of the Nov. 6 election “will make a difference for the nation, will make a difference for the families of the nation and will make a difference for your family, individually and specifically.”
With 13 days until Election Day, opinion polls depicted a close race nationally. Romney’s campaign claims momentum as well as the lead in Florida and North Carolina, two battleground states with a combined 44 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Obama’s aides insist the president is ahead or tied with his rival in both of those states and in the other seven decisive battlegrounds.
Not even Obama, in an interview with radio host Tom Joyner, predicted that fellow Democrats would win control of the House from Republicans, who are looking to renew a majority they won two years ago in a landslide triggered by the tea party.
The Democrats and Republicans are struggling uncertainly for control of the Senate. And for the second time, a hard-fought Senate campaign was jolted by a dispute over abortion, in this case a statement by Republican Richard Mourdock of Indiana that when a woman becomes pregnant by rape, “that’s something God intended” and there should be no abortion allowed.
Romney said he disagreed with the remarks. However, unlike an earlier abortion-related controversy involving Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, Romney did not disavow his support for Mourdock, who is locked in a close race with Rep. Joe Donnelly, his Democratic opponent.
The president’s major focus was his coast-to-coast-and-back again tour.
“We’re going to pull an all-nighter. No sleep,” the president said shortly after Air Force One touched down in Iowa, first stop of a swing that included Colorado, California, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia and Florida, with a quick stop in Illinois to cast an early ballot, before he returns to the White House on Thursday evening.
On his second stop of the long day, Obama told a crowd of about 16,000 people at Denver’s City Park that he as “fired up” — though temperatures dropped near 50 degrees. It was in Denver that Obama had his lackluster first debate performance early in the month. He didn’t mention that on Wednesday.
“This may not be the last time you’ll see me,” Obama told the crowd. Colorado is considered one of the toughest of the battleground states for him to hang onto in this election.
The Electoral College map explained Romney’s focus on Ohio — a state no Republican has lost in a winning presidential campaign — as well as on Iowa. Together, they account for 24 electoral votes out of the 270 needed.
Barring a last-minute change — some Republicans said there is still time for a late play in Pennsylvania or Minnesota — Obama is ahead in states and the District of Columbia with 237 electoral votes. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes.
That leaves North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado and their 110 electoral votes up for grabs, more than enough to give either contender a chance at the presidency.
Obama’s far-flung rallies were somewhat overshadowed by a day-old interview with top editors of the Des Moines Register, originally meant to be off the record, made public by the White House under public pressure from the newspaper. Without ever saying so, by his comments Obama sought to undercut Romney’s oft-repeated claims that he had worked successfully with Democrats while governor of Massachusetts and would do so again in the White House.
The president said he is “absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain” on the federal budget that he and Republicans futilely pursued in 2011, including $2.50 in spending cuts for every $1 in higher revenue, with steps to reduce the costs of health care programs.
“We can credibly meet the target the Bowles-Simpson Commission established of $4 trillion in deficit reduction” over a decade, he said.
Efforts to agree on a sweeping deficit-cutting deal with House Speaker John Boehner more than a year ago fell apart when liberals resisted measures Obama has accepted, including a gradual increase in the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67 from 65, and conservatives balked at the speaker’s willingness to include higher tax revenue in any agreement.
Nor did the president embrace the recommendations put together by the Bowles-Simpson Commission, a panel of outsiders that he appointed to recommend a solution to the nation’s long-running budget deadlock.
As for immigration, another issue that seems permanently gridlocked, the president said, “Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
It was a suggestion that Republicans will have to ease their opposition to measures giving illegal immigrants a path to permanent residence or citizenship if they lose the election.
Romney, in Reno, departed from previous campaign speeches and sought to personalize the choice voters face.
He ticked through several different hypothetical situations — a senior citizen struggling to pay for health care, a young family trying to educate their kids, an unemployed worker looking for a job — and insisted each would be better off under a Romney administration.
“How many here identify with stories like that in your own home?” he asked, and hands shot up across the room.
“This is an election about your family,” the Republican challenger said.
Romney running mate Paul Ryan was in Ohio, but not for a typical, late-campaign rally. Instead, in a speech at Cleveland State University, he said that in the nation’s long-running “war on poverty, poverty is winning.” He said community — the work done by churches, charities, friends and neighbors — is critical, although government, too, has a role in helping the disadvantaged.
“There has to be a balance, allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden, too, campaigned in Ohio, where he insisted that Republican protests notwithstanding, Romney and Ryan back a massive tax cut for the rich.
“My mother said, Joey, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Man this is one quacking duck,” Biden said.
Obama did not mention the abortion controversy in Indiana, but his campaign spokeswoman did. Jennifer Psaki told reporters that the president finds Mourdock’s comments “outrageous and demeaning to women.”
Nor did Romney mention the flap. Spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the campaign has not asked Mourdock to stop airing the endorsement TV ad Romney recorded.
There were echoes of the Republican National Convention in a new television commercial featuring Clint Eastwood and paid for by the super political action committee American Crossroads. A second term for the president would be a “rerun of the first, and our country just couldn’t survive that,” says the actor, who sharply criticized an imaginary Obama during a GOP convention speech to an empty chair.
Obama’s campaign unveiled a new 30-second ad reminding supporters of the dangers of complacency. Recalling the 2000 Florida recount that tipped the election to George W. Bush, the narrator says, “If you’re thinking your vote doesn’t count, that it won’t matter, well, back then, there were probably at least 537 people who felt the same way.” Images of war, economic hardships and the infamous hanging chads from disputed Florida ballots scroll by.
Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in Nevada, Philip Elliott and Matthew Daly in Ohio, Beth Fouhy in New York and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this story.
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