Barack Obama and Mitt Romney launched themselves Monday into frantic forays seeking votes across a handful of key swing states.
President Obama, seeking a second and final term in the Oval Office, hopes to cement the firewall of mid-western states that would give him four more years: Iowa, Wisconsin and, most importantly, Ohio.
His Republican rival, Mitt Romney, will also be in Ohio, along with Virginia and Florida before ending his five-year quest. He tried but failed to get the Republican nomination in 2008.
With more than $2-billion spent, the outcome of the 2012 election will, in the end, depend on a few hundred thousand swing voters in a handful of states and, crucially, on which party’s ground game can deliver more of its faithful to the polls.
National polls show a virtual tie but battles rage in half-a-dozen closely contested states.
The long and often-vicious contest, with thousands of hours of attack ads, took another ugly turn Sunday when Mr. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, took a swipe at Mr. Obama – raising doubts about his “Judeo-Christian values.”
In an unannounced telephone call with Christian conservatives – a key segment of the Republican base – Mr. Ryan warned that Mr. Obama was leading American down “a dangerous path” away from its Western, founding, principles.
“It’s a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty, and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place,” Mr. Ryan said. He was speaking to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a leading group of Christian conservatives. Mr. Ryan he also spoke of his Roman Catholicism and the importance of prayer.
Given the persistent, attacks accusing the President of being foreign-born and a Muslim, Mr. Ryan’s message seemed certain to further arouse passions on both sides in the final hours of the 2012 campaign.
Mr. Obama’s father was Kenyan and his step-father an Indonesian Muslim but the President was born in Hawaii and had repeatedly and unequivocally professed he is a Christian.
“I have never been a Muslim,” Mr. Obama in 2007 but he has never managed to convince his enemies.
Mr. Ryan’s somewhat oblique jab over whether Mr. Obama’s is too un-American to be president may be intended to fire up the Republican base.
In the last few hours, Ohio looms large.
On Sunday, a hoarse Mr. Obama twice told a rally of more than 12,000 at the University of Cincinnati stadium.
“I need you, Ohio!”
The President, back stumping after taking three days off earlier in the week to deal with the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Sandy said: “If you’re willing to work with me, and knock on some doors with me and you’re willing to early vote for me, make some phone calls for me, turn out for me, we’ll win Ohio, we’ll win this election!”
Ohio is critical to both contenders and it will be the only state visited by both on this the final day of campaigning.
Mr. Romney will start Monday playing defence, with stops in Virginia and Florida. Both were won by Mr. Obama in 2008 but both seemed safely in the Republican camp weeks ago. Now state-wide polls are showing both in play. Losing one, or both, could doom Mr. Romney’s bid to oust the President.
In a surprise move, Mr. Romney also campaigned over the weekend in Pennsylvania, a state that most polls showed to be safely in Mr. Obama’s win column.
“I know how to change the course this country is on,” Mr. Romney told a rally in the Philadelphia suburbs. “It’s something I’m going to do as president of the United States. …two more days and we can get to work on rebuilding our country.”
The crowd responded with chants of “Two more days,” the sort of countdown Republicans are hoping for even as Democrats in this bitterly divided country are chanting “Four more years.”
Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign focused on hope and change, but they are now Mr. Romney’s catchwords, coupled with a vision of job creation and revitalization. He repeatedly warns that Americans, especially the millions out of work or who have had their home foreclosed, can’t afford four more years with Mr. Obama at the helm.
The President has been forced to insist it would have been far worse had he not been in power.
“After all we have been through, we can’t give up now,” Mr. Obama repeatedly told the Democrat faithful at rallies in the last few days. “I’m not ready to give up the fight.”
Mr. Romney sees it differently. “Do you want four more years like the last four years, or do you want real change? President Obama promised change, but he couldn’t deliver, ... he’s got excuses. I’ve got a plan.”