White House challenger Mitt Romney took his campaign into the weekend with a spring in his step, as US President Barack Obama went behind closed doors in a bid to prepare for a crucial upcoming debate.
The first head-to-head debates of the race have shaken up the campaign arithmetic and given Romney and vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan momentum as they roll into the last weeks before Nov. 6.
Until Obama’s lackluster first debate last week, the Democrat looked to be on course for victory, with a narrow lead over the Republican in national polls and a lock on the key swing states that are set to decide the result.
However, Romney triumphed in the head-to-head and Ryan made no major errors in his debut on Thursday against US Vice President Joe Biden, leaving the Republicans slightly ahead nationally and making inroads in battleground districts.
An average of polls conducted by the respected Web site RealClearPolitics gave Romney a one point lead nationwide and showed him winning in swing states Florida, North Carolina and Colorado — also targets for Obama.
However, Obama retains narrow leads in Ohio, Virginia and Iowa and most pundits, bookmakers and online prediction markets are still expecting that the incumbent will win a second term with a majority of votes in the electoral college.
Biden’s aggressive debating turn enthused Obama’s Democratic supporters, but pundits expressed doubt that it would convert many waverers including younger and less experienced voters.
Now all eyes are turning back to the top of the ticket. A good debate performance from Obama on Tuesday could smother memories of his disastrous first outing — or Romney could set the seal on his newfound narrow lead.
This new reality was underlined by the rivals’ choice of Friday schedules. Romney remained on the trail with a series of flying visits to swing states Virginia and Ohio, but Obama was hunkered down practicing his lines for Tuesday.
The tedious work was not interrupted by reports that a shot was fired on Friday at an Obama campaign office in the state of Colorado, shattering a window, but injuring no one.
A photo posted online showed a window broken at the front of the office. Police said they were searching for a “possible vehicle of interest.”
Meanwhile, having shown his boss how to debate, Biden tried to crank up the energy of his performance in a trip to Wisconsin — Ryan’s home state and a battleground Obama badly needs in his column on Nov. 6.
He lashed out at Romney over the content of a secretly-filmed tape in which the Republican nominee branded 47 percent of Americans as “victims” who were dependent on the government and paid little in tax.
“Folks, it’s about time Governor Romney take some responsibility to help the American people, the middle class,” Biden told 2,000 people in La Crosse.