US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney yesterday powered into a final weekend of campaigning before handing their fates to voters after a bitter, grueling White House race.
The rivals chased one another through the battleground states that will decide Tuesday’s election, with Obama seeking to solidify his mid-western line of defense, while Romney seeks an 11th-hour breakthrough.
Obama was to campaign in Ohio before heading to Wisconsin and Iowa, his trio of “firewall” battlegrounds ahead of a late-night rally in Virginia, where he still hopes for a win.
Romney, fresh from the biggest rally of his campaign on Friday, which drew about 18,000 people on a cold night in West Chester, Ohio, was scheduled to travel to New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado.
Both candidates were to 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 former US senator Rick Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry, along with Obama’s 2008 rival, US Senator John McCain.
In all, 45 lawmakers and relatives of the candidate and running mate Paul Ryan — wearing Romney jackets — attended the rally.
Obama had earlier evaded a last-minute time bomb as the economy pumped out more jobs than expected last month, delivering a boost to his re-election hopes as the final weekend of campaigning begins.
However, Romney 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.
However, all Obama’s polling leads were within the margin of error and both campaigns, though expressing confidence, are to 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.
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 8 percent mark could have sent late-deciding voters to Romney.
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 on 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, adding that auto bosses had directly contradicted Romney on the attack.
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.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist survey made public on Friday indicated that Obama holds a six-point advantage over Romney among likely voters in Ohio — 51 percent to 45 percent.
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.