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As debate looms, Mitt Romney looks to Pennsylvania

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 28 2012 1:30 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a campaign event at American Legion Post 176, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, in Springfield, Va.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — His path to victory narrowing, Mitt Romney is looking to Pennsylvania to help slow President Barack Obama's momentum ahead of a high-stakes meeting on the debate stage next week.

The Republican presidential nominee was to campaign Friday in the Philadelphia area, first courting donors at a high-dollar fundraiser and then meeting voters at a midday rally.

Fresh off a promise to spend more time in the swing states that matter most, Romney will pass much of the day in a state that has not supported a Republican presidential candidate in nearly a quarter-century. His campaign is not running any television ads in Pennsylvania, and aides privately concede that Obama has a significant advantage just 40 days before Election Day.

They suggest that Romney's visit — his first to the state in more than two months — is largely designed to raise the money needed to narrow Obama's edge in more competitive states. After raising $5 million at a Washington event Thursday, Romney is expected to generate more than $1 million in Philadelphia and an additional $7 million at a Boston fundraiser later Friday.

"We're going to have to make the right choice on Nov. 6, and you're going to make that happen," Romney told cheering donors in Washington.

Obama will also focus on raising cash Friday as he keeps his campaign close to Washington, where he has three fundraising events scheduled.

He is set to deliver remarks at a finance event at the Capital Hilton in Washington, where tickets start at $250 but go as high as $10,000 per couple. Obama will attend a smaller fundraiser at a private residence before returning to the Capitol Hilton for a third event.

On Thursday, Romney and Obama campaigned a few hundred miles apart in Virginia.

The president pledged to create many more jobs and "make the middle class secure again," while Romney focused on threats beyond American shores, accusing Obama of backing dangerous cuts in defense spending.

The Republican's message, including questions about the president's response to recent violence in Libya, comes as he tries to move beyond his long-held economic focus to help score political points and reverse a slide in the polls.

"The idea of cutting our military is unthinkable and devastating. And when I become president we will not," Romney declared at an American Legion hall in Springfield, Va.

He is expected to push a similar message on Friday in suburban Philadelphia during a rally at Valley Forge Military Academy and College.

While Romney aides are not optimistic about their chances in Pennsylvania, Republicans are not giving up on the state.

"We have an aggressive operation and ground game in place," campaign spokesman Rick Gorka said.

The state GOP is set to begin running a television ad Friday assailing Obama's economic leadership. Pennsylvania's unemployment rate, at 8.1 percent, is slightly less than the national average.

Obama and Romney are scheduled to face off Wednesday in Denver for the first of three presidential debates, which may represent the challenger's best remaining opportunity to change the trajectory of his campaign. Romney has struggled through a series of perceived missteps in weeks amid signs that confidence in the nation's economy is on the rise.

Obama was expected to meet with advisers Friday to prepare for next week's debate. The president was departing Sunday for Nevada, where he planned to hold debate practice sessions near Las Vegas.

Romney has been focused on fundraising and debate preparation for several weeks, raising some questions from within the GOP about his strategy. Earlier in the week, Romney said the time had come in the campaign when he would start spending less time with donors and more time with voters in swing states.

Following his stop in Pennsylvania, Romney heads to Boston for an evening fundraiser and a weekend focused on more debate preparation.

In an election centered largely on the economy, each side got some new ammunition on Thursday. The Commerce Department lowered its earlier estimate of tepid growth for the April-June quarter, while the Labor Department said the economy added 386,000 more jobs from April 2011 through March 2012 than previously believed.

Romney compared the American economy to that of Russia as he ignored signs of growth and pounced on the Commerce Department's downward revision.

"By the way, Russia's GDP growth is at 4 percent. And we're at 1.3. This is unacceptable," he said. "The president does not understand how to get this economy to work for the American people."

Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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