President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney dueled Thursday across America’s swing states, working feverishly to push early voters to the polls and battling hard for the votes of women. Both candidates visited Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes could decide the winner on Nov. 6.
Obama’s campaign said the president will return to Akron on Wednesday for a grass-roots event, but details were not available.
Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are scheduled to appear tonight in North Canton
Obama, his voice hoarse, wrapped up a 48-hour campaign marathon Thursday night at a rally in Cleveland. Romney stumped in Cincinnati, the Columbus suburb of Worthington and Defiance in northwestern Ohio.
They campaigned as Americans already are voting in 34 states, including Ohio. Voters in many states can go to the polls or cast “no-excuse” absentee ballots, meaning they don’t have to give a reason for requesting such a ballot, before Election Day. Obama is viewed as having the advantage in early voting states, thanks to the sophisticated get-out-the-vote machine he first used four years ago.
Obama voted himself Thursday in Chicago, the first time an incumbent president has voted early. He implored supporters to do the same. Thirty-five percent of all voters are expected to cast early ballots, up from 31 percent four years ago, according to Paul Gronke, director of the Reed College Early Voting Information Center in Oregon.
Republicans were equally eager to turn out the vote. “I need you to commit as well, not only to vote, and vote early — I won’t say often, just vote early,” Romney urged a Cincinnati crowd.
Early voting matters not only because it helps increase turnout, but “it frees up a lot of resources that can be used to get more voters to the polls on Election Day,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
Wooing women voters
The two camps also vied to woo women, as a new AP-Gfk survey confirmed other polls showing that Obama has lost the big lead he had held among women voters. Obama led by 16 percentage points a month ago, but the two are now tied, according to the AP poll.
Obama intensified his pressure Thursday on Mitt Romney to break any ties with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who said in a debate Tuesday that if a woman becomes pregnant from rape it is “something God intended.”
Obama, asked about the comment Wednesday by late-night talk show host Jay Leno, said, “Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so these various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me — don’t make any sense to me.”
Wednesday, the campaign unveiled an ad reminding voters that Romney also opposes abortion rights, though Romney supports abortion rights in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.
Focus on economy
Romney, who appears in a television advertisement declaring his support for Mourdock, brushed aside questions on the matter from reporters throughout the day and continued to emphasize his economic message.
During an appearance at Jet Machine in Cincinnati, a military equipment supplier and assembler, Romney outlined his economic plans after being introduced by women involved in local small businesses.
Romney’s advisers maintain he can win the women’s vote with his economic arguments.
“For those of you in your 40s and 50s, who have always anticipated that these would be the high earning years, the most productive years, the years that you’d be able to put a little away for retirement or perhaps help your kids with college,” Romney said, “you’re finding that’s harder and harder to do.”
He centered his efforts instead on turning his campaign’s claims of momentum into a more practical — and ultimately necessary — road map to winning the required 270 Electoral College votes.
Romney’s team has yet to publicly outline any specific pathways to 270. Without a win in Ohio, however, the Republican nominee would have to sweep every other competitive state.
That reality was the motivation behind Romney’s daylong swing through Ohio on Thursday. Obama finished his day in Ohio, too, with a 12,000-person rally on an airport tarmac — the final stop on his marathon, two-day drive for votes.
“Even though I’ve been going for about 38 hours straight, even though my voice is getting kind of hoarse, I’ve still got a spring in my step because our course is right, because we’re fighting for the future. I’ve come to Ohio today to ask you for your vote,” said Obama, speaking against the backdrop of Cleveland’s skyline and Air Force One.
Obama leads in Ohio polls
An upbeat Romney proclaimed his campaign had the momentum heading into Election Day.
But there were signs in Ohio, as well as Virginia, that his surge following the first debate might have run its course.
In Ohio, internal Republican and Democratic campaign polls this week showed Obama with a lead, just outside the margin of sampling error.
The race in Virginia remains close. Romney has established a slim lead, but the shift toward him seen during the three weeks of debates has slowed or stopped, internal polls from both parties showed.
Romney is hoping to boost his electoral prospects in part by cutting into Obama’s long-standing advantage with women. The AP-GfK poll suggested that effort was bearing fruit, with Romney erasing the president’s 16-point advantage among female likely voters.
Obama advisers insist they’ve lost no ground with women. But their eagerness to highlight Romney’s connections to Mourdock indicated some degree of nervousness within the campaign.
Romney’s campaign reached out to female voters Thursday by sending Ann Romney on daytime’s Rachael Ray show, where she prepared her meatloaf cakes recipe and took cameras on a trip to Costco to shop in bulk for family gatherings.
McClatchy Newspapers and the Associated Press contributed to this report.