Mitt Romney campaigns in Worthington, Ohio. (Emmanuel Dunand, AFP/Getty…)
CINCINNATI — In battleground states across the country, President Obama and Mitt Romney pressed voters to their sides Thursday, with the incumbent arguing that he was the candidate voters could trust and the challenger insisting that he represented needed change.
With election day less than two weeks away, their campaigning crackled with urgency. Obama continued on a nonstop two-day tour of several battleground states, moving from Nevada overnight to Florida in the morning, and later to Virginia, Illinois — where he voted — and on to Ohio. Romney spent the day in that state, chief among those in the candidates' sights as Nov. 6 nears.
At a morning rally in Ybor City, Fla., Obama, his voice already hoarse, delivered a direct pitch to women. As he urged the 8,500 supporters gathered at a fairground to head to the polls, he told them electing a president was about trust.
"When you elect a president, you're counting on someone you can trust to fight for you, who you can trust to do what they say they're going to do, who you can trust to make sure that when something unexpected happens he or she is going to be thinking about your family, your future," Obama said. "Trust matters."
Obama arrived at the Tampa airport in the dark on his red-eye flight from Las Vegas, where he drew 13,000 people to a late-night rally. (Obama was helped by pop singer Katy Perry, who warmed up the crowd before the speech by performing in a short dress designed to look like a ballot.)
For both sides, the frantic campaign blitz is aimed at pushing voters to the polls early. At each stop, Obama has brought a blunt, boiled-down assessment of his GOP rival: Romney is not to be trusted. The president ticked through his promises from 2008 and declared each fulfilled.
Obama continued building on his riff knocking Romney for rhetorically moving to the center late in the campaign, saying the GOP rival must have a come down with a condition.
"Romnesia!" the crowd jumped in unprompted, adopting the president's mocking critique.
Obama's aides were projecting more confidence, contending that their get-out-the-vote operation was driving thousands of supporters to vote early and building a firewall for the president in battleground states. The mood, however, was also boosted by two outside factors.
First, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell offered his endorsement in a morning interview on CBS, a reprise of his backing in 2008.
And the Obama campaign happily watched — and fueled — continued conversation about Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's statement that a pregnancy following a rape was "something that God intended to happen" — even if God did not condone rape.
"As we saw again this week, I don't think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making healthcare decisions for women," Obama said to cheers. "Women can make those decisions themselves."
Romney took a page from Obama's campaign four years ago as he told Ohio voters that he was the candidate of "big change." He cast his rival as the candidate of the "status quo."
At his first of three rallies on his Ohio bus tour, Romney mentioned the phrase "big change" no less than a dozen times and argued that Obama had taken the country backward with his economic policies. He listed the nation's current challenges: underperforming schools, the debt and joblessness.
"These challenges are big challenges. This election is therefore a big choice, and America wants to see big changes, and we're going to bring big changes to get America strong again," he said.
Romney said Obama's policies had failed to get the economy moving.
"The president has the same old answers as in the past — he wants another stimulus, he wants more government workers, and he wants to raise taxes. There is no prospect whatsoever that that path will help our economy grow and put people to work and raise take-home pay," he said.
Romney rolled across the state in his campaign bus Thursday with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who recently helped him prepare for the three presidential debates. They made a morning stop at a Cincinnati diner, where Romney ordered an omelet with peppers and onions, breakfast potatoes and grits, and they ate lunch together en route to the second rally of the day in Worthington, Ohio. (Obama's version: a Florida doughnut shop, where he bought doughnuts for a young boy and local firefighters.)
Much as Obama did, Romney urged his supporters to vote early and to spend election day getting others to the polls: "We need to make sure Ohio is able to send a message loud and clear: We want real change. We want big change."
Reston reported from Ohio and Hennessey from Florida.