Pool-Shannon Stapleton, Associated Press
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Fresh off an intensely combative debate, President Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney and their running mates are taking their tuned-up fight to the precious few battleground states where the election is up for grabs with just 20 days to go.
In the sprint to Election Day, Nov. 6, every aspect of the campaign seems to be taking on a fresh sense of urgency — the ads, the fundraising, the grass-roots mobilizing and the outreach to key voting blocs, particularly women. Obama wore a pink breast cancer bracelet while campaigning in Iowa and Romney's campaign dispatched former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to introduce vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in Ohio.
Rice and Ryan highlighted the plight of women in the current economy, with Ryan reading statistics from the podium on female unemployment and poverty rates under Obama's leadership. "We need to get people back to work," Ryan said. "We need to get this economy turned around."
Romney also quietly began airing a new TV ad suggesting he believes abortion "should be an option" in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake.
The ad is an appeal to women voters, who polls show have favored Obama throughout the race although Romney has been making gains among them. Romney supported abortion rights as Massachusetts governor but now says he opposes abortion with limited exceptions. His campaign didn't announce the ad, but it began running on debate night on stations that reach Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Romney traveled with comedian Dennis Miller, and singer Lee Greenwood warmed up his crowd in southeast Virginia. Vice President Joe Biden was westward bound for Colorado and Nevada.
Obama appears to have 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory comfortably in hand, and Romney is confident of 191. That leaves 110 electoral votes up for grabs in nine battleground states: Florida (29), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Nevada (6) and New Hampshire (4).
The candidates debated Tuesday night as if their political lives depended on it — because they do. It was a re-energized Obama who showed up at Hofstra University, lifting the spirits of Democrats who felt let down by the president's limp performance in the candidates' first encounter two weeks ago.
But Romney knew what was coming and didn't give an inch, pressing his case even when the arguments deteriorated into did-not, did-too rejoinders that couldn't have done much to clarify the choice for undecided voters.
The debate was the third installment in what amounts to a four-week-long reality TV series for Campaign 2012. Romney was the clear victor in the series debut, Biden aggressively counterpunched in the next-up vice presidential debate, and the latest faceoff featured two competitors determined to give no quarter.
It was a pushy, interruption-filled encounter filled with charges and countercharges that the other guy wasn't telling the truth. The two candidates were both verbally and physically at odds in the town hall-style format, at one point circling each other on center stage like boxers in a prize fight.
"I thought it was a real moment," Biden told NBC's "Today" show in a taped interview aired Wednesday. "When they were kind of circling each other, it was like, 'Hey, come on man, let's level with each other here.'"
One of the debate's tensest moments came when Romney suggested Obama's administration may have misled the public over what caused the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month that killed four Americans. The issue is sure to continue to be debated next week at the third and closing debate, focused on foreign policy and scheduled for Monday at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
"As the facts come out about the Benghazi attack we learn more troubling facts by the day," Ryan told "This Morning" on CBS. "So that's why need to get to the bottom of this to get answers so that we can prevent something like this from ever happening again."
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