HOLLYWOOD, Fla.: Two days from judgment by the voters, President Barack Obama raced through four far-flung battleground states Sunday while Mitt Romney ventured into traditionally Democratic Pennsylvania, seeking a breakthrough in a close race he mused aloud he might lose.
Appearing before some of the largest crowds of the campaign, the two rivals stressed their differences on the economy, health care and more while professing an eagerness to work across party lines and end gridlock in Washington.
“You have the power,” Obama, the most powerful political leader in the world, told thousands of cheering supporters in New Hampshire, his first appearance of a day not scheduled to end until after midnight in the East.
Later, in Cleveland, boos from Romney’s partisans turned to appreciative laughter when the Republican nominee began a sentence by saying, “If the president were to be elected,” and ended it with, “It’s possible but not likely.” It was a rare public acknowledgement that despite expressions of confidence from him and his aides, defeat was a possibility.
In a campaign that began more than a year ago, late public opinion polls were tight for the nationwide popular vote. But they suggested at least a slim advantage for the president in the state-by-state competition for electoral votes that will settle the contest, including Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada.
Conceding nothing, Romney flew to Pennsylvania for his first campaign foray of the general election. The state last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1988, and Obama’s aides insisted it was safe for the president. Yet the challenger and his allies began advertising heavily in the campaign’s final days, and public and private polls suggested the state was relatively close.
The theme from Rocky blared from the loudspeakers as he stepped to the podium. “The people of America understand we’re taking back the White House because we’re going to win Pennsylvania,” Romney told a large crowd that had been waiting for hours on a cold night.
Another TV spot
Earlier, Romney launched a new television commercial, possibly his last of the campaign, as he appeared in Iowa, Ohio and Virginia as well as Pennsylvania. “He’s offering excuses. I’ve got a plan” to fix the economy. “I can’t wait for us to get started,” he said.
In Des Moines, Romney said he would meet regularly with “good men and women on both sides of the aisle” in Congress. Later, in Cleveland, he said of Obama, “Instead of bridging the divide, he’s made it wider.”
Obama had New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio and Colorado in his sights for the day, and, judging from the polls, a slight wind at his back. So much so that one conservative group cited a string of surveys that favor the president as it emailed an urgent plea for late-campaign donations so it could end his time in the White House.
Ahead of a planned stop in Cincinnati, the president said in Florida that he wants to work across party lines, but quickly added there were limits to the sorts of compromises he would make.
“If the price of peace in Washington is cutting deals that will kick students off of financial aid, or get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood, or let insurance companies discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, or eliminate health care for millions who are on Medicaid .... I’m not willing to pay that price,” he said.
Crisscrossing the nation
The two rivals and their running mates flew from state to state as the last of an estimated 1 million campaign commercials were airing in a costly attempt to influence a diminishing pool of voters.
More than 27 million ballots have been cast in 34 states and the District of Columbia, although none will be counted until Election Day on Tuesday.
Nearly 4 million of them were deposited by Floridians, and Democrats cited unprecedented demand for pre-election day voting as they filed a lawsuit demanding an extension of available time. A judge granted their request in one county where an early voting site was shut down for several hours on Saturday in a bomb scare.
So intense was the campaigning that Vice President Joe Biden’s plane and the one carrying Romney were both on the tarmac in Cleveland at the same time in early afternoon. The two men did not see one another.
Biden’s assignment for the day was to rally voters across Ohio. “These guys are trying to play a con game here at the end,” he said of Romney and Ryan, whom he accused of posing as more moderate than they are.
Ryan started out the day in his home state of Wisconsin, then campaigned in Ohio, Minnesota and Colorado.