By John McCormick and Margaret Talev
President Obama and Mitt Romney entered the final two weeks of their White House race on confident and combative notes, using different themes to bolster a common message: Each claims a plausible path to victory.
“The president said he was a president of change, but in fact he’s become a president of status quo,” Romney told more than 10,000 supporters Tuesday night at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo.
Romney was joined by his vice-presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who said Obama will try to “distract” voters because he has run out of ideas on the economy. “Paul and I can handle two more weeks of attacks, but I don’t think America can handle four more years,” Romney said.
Obama, during an earlier appearance, said his Republican challenger’s policies are “all over the map” and sought to sow doubt about his opponent’s trustworthiness and consistency.
“I hope I made clear that there’s a big difference between me and Mitt Romney,” Obama told supporters in Dayton, Ohio. “And it’s not just that he’s got better hair.”
With their three debates now behind them, both men encouraged supporters to vote early and advanced economic arguments designed to appeal to the narrowing sliver of undecided voters.
Obama will try to build intensity Wednesday as he begins a two-day blitz that will take him across four time zones and to six competitive states. Romney for the second straight day is wooing voters in Nevada and then in Iowa.
During Romney’s stop in Nevada Tuesday, the trappings of the presidency were in plain view. His motorcade passed near equipment for Obama’s arrival Wednesday night on the tarmac at the Las Vegas airport.
Obama will visit Las Vegas as part of a trip that will also take him to Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Ohio. They are among the nine states that the two campaigns say probably will decide the Nov. 6 presidential election and where the candidates are concentrating their attention. The others are New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
An ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll released Tuesday showed Romney ahead 49 percent to 48 percent among likely voters, a reversal of Obama’s identical edge a day earlier. The poll, taken Oct. 19-22, had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Gallup’s daily tracking poll, taken Oct. 16-22, put Romney ahead 51 percent to 46 percent among likely voters, and 48 percent to 47 percent among registered voters. Those surveys have margins of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
Obama, campaigning Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden in Dayton, reprised his criticism of Romney from this week’s foreign policy debate in Florida, which drew 53.9 million viewers, the fewest of any of the presidential debates.
The United States needs leadership that is “strong and steady,” Obama said, describing Romney’s stance on U.S. foreign policy as “wrong and reckless.”
Biden said Romney was “rushing to agree” with Obama’s policies in the final debate, repeating a campaign theme that the former Massachusetts governor is shifting from positions he took during the Republican primaries.
“Half the time I didn’t know whether Governor Romney was there to debate Barack Obama or endorse Barack Obama,” he said.
Earlier in the day in Florida, Obama argued he is a more trustworthy leader, saying his challenger can’t be counted on to do what he says because he has switched positions on such issues as national security and health care.
“You know me,” Obama told about 11,000 supporters at a rally in Delray Beach, Fla. “You can trust that I say what I mean and I mean what I say.” Romney’s approach is to “hide his real positions and try to win this election,” the Democratic president said.
The editor of the Des Moines Register said in an online posting that he and the newspaper’s publisher were granted a half-hour interview with Obama Tuesday on the condition that the details be kept off the record. The Iowa newspaper plans to endorse one of the candidates on Oct. 27.
Rick Green, the Register’s editor, said Romney met with the newspaper’s editorial board in October. “We repeatedly — and politely — have asked Obama 2012 campaign officials in Iowa and Chicago for the same access,” Green wrote. While the off-record requirement won’t affect the endorsement decision, Green said, he considers it important for voters to demand transparency.
The Republican National Committee seized on the posting, saying Obama was trying to hide his positions from voters. The White House and Obama campaign didn’t immediately comment.
Polls show voters have responded positively to the five- point economic plan that Romney has been hammering on the stump, in advertisements and at the debates. Obama’s campaign countered by distributing 3.5 million copies of a 20-page booklet outlining the president’s proposals in conjunction with a direct-mail campaign and a new 60-second broadcast ad.
While the proposals on such issues as energy and education aren’t new — Obama has been reciting them in speeches throughout the year, including at the Democratic National Convention — they were repackaged to heighten the president’s appeal and add a sense of urgency in the campaign’s homestretch.
“Unlike Mitt Romney, I’m actually proud to talk about what’s in it because my plan actually will move America forward,” Obama said in Delray Beach, holding up a copy of the booklet and flipping through the pages.
A television ad that is part of the effort will run in the nine battleground states.
“I would say that it is a glossy panic button,” Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser, said of the booklet.
Madden told reporters aboard the campaign’s plane on the flight to Nevada that Obama’s tactics — including accusing the Republican of “Romnesia” over his policy stances — suggest Obama’s re-election effort is under stress.
“Here we have the leader of the free world playing word games 14 days from Election Day,” Madden said. “It’s emblematic of the fact that the president doesn’t have a closing argument for the American people about why he should be re- elected.”
Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said he remains confident the president has more avenues than Romney to reach the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
“We continue to feel very good about our prospects two weeks from tonight,” Messina told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
While Romney hasn’t been able to “knock us out” of a single battleground state, Messina said the Obama team has forced the challenger’s campaign to expend significant resources in states such as North Carolina and pull some firepower out of Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.