DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — With just two weeks until Election Day, President Barack Obama on Tuesday began a cross-country rush to hold onto office in tough economic times with a new booklet outlining his second-term agendasecond-term agenda and a closing argument that the choice comes down to trust.
The president emerged from the last of his debates with Republican Mitt Romney fueled by a rush of adrenaline matched by thousands of boisterous supporters who filled the outdoor Delray Tennis Center to hear him speak. The crowd repeatedly interrupted Obama's 22-minute speech with applause and chants of "four more years" that drowned out his remarks.
Obama, with sleeves rolled up, held up a copy of the full-color, 20-page "Blueprint for America's Future" that his campaign planned to distribute across the country — a booklet that offered a repackaging of his ideas in response to GOP criticism that he hasn't clearly articulated a plan for the next four years. He argued that voters want to know what a presidential candidate will fight for and said Romney isn't offering a clear vision.
"We joke about Romnesia," Obama said, a reference to his joke that his challenger has a habit of vacillating positions. "But you know what? This actually is something important. This is about trust. There is no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust."
Neither side can claim the lead at this late stage with polls showing a neck-and-neck race nationally and in some of the key swing states. Obama's challenge is to convince voters who may be hurting financially that he is better qualified to lead the country back to economic prosperity than Romney, who made a fortune as a successful businessman.
"Florida, you know me," Obama said. "You can trust that I say what I mean and I mean what I say. And yes, we've been through tough times. But you've never seen me quit."
Both campaigns predicted victory, trying to ward off worries among the supporters they need to get to the polls. "In two weeks, a majority of Americans will choose Gov. Romney's positive agenda over President Obama's increasingly desperate attacks," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams in a statement responding to the president's Florida rally.
Obama senior strategist David Axelrod said he was confident Obama would win and that Americans soon will know who's been bluffing in their dueling declarations of victory. "We have the ball, we have the lead," Axelrod told reporters on a conference call.
Axelrod said the campaign was printing 3.5 million copies of his second-term agenda to reach the "small universe" of voters who haven't made up their minds. The booklet, which they plan to distribute at events and campaign offices across the country, outlines the president's plans to improve education, boost manufacturing jobs, enhance U.S.-made energy, reduce the federal deficit and raise taxes on the wealthy.
Romney policy director Lanhee Chen responded that Obama was trying to fool people into thinking he has new ideas when all he's offering is more of the same plans that Chen said have been ineffective. "A glossy pamphlet two weeks before an election is no substitute for a real agenda for America. As much as President Obama might try, you can't gloss over four years like the last four," Chen wrote in a memo.
Obama also touted economic gains in a new 60-second television advertisement in which he speaks directly to the camera about his plans for a second term. The ad will air in the nine states whose electoral votes are still considered up for grabs — New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado.
Those states were sure to see a burst of activity in visits from the two campaigns, political commercials and voter mobilization in the race that's likely to cost upward of $2 billion by the time it all ends. Obama campaigned Tuesday in Florida and was headed to Ohio, while Romney's campaign plane taxied past Air Force One on Tuesday morning as he headed West to Nevada and Colorado.
With 270 electoral votes needed for victory, Obama at this point appears on track to win 237 while Romney appears to have 191. The other 110 electoral votes are in the hotly contested battleground states.
Asked Tuesday whether the race comes down to Ohio, Virginia and Florida as some observers have suggested, Vice President Joe Biden described the three as "critically important." He predicted victory in Ohio and Florida — without mentioning Virginia.
"Look, this is going to be close," Biden said on NBC's "Today." ''We always knew at the end of the day this was going to be a close race, no matter who the Republicans nominated."
After Obama and Biden campaign together in Ohio, the president splits off on what his campaign is describing as a two-day "around-the-clock" blitz to six more battleground states. He'll be in constant motion — making voter calls and sleeping aboard Air Force One as he flies overnight Wednesday from Nevada to Tampa, Fla.
The vice president is midway through a three-day tour of uber-battleground Ohio, and Obama's team contends its best way of ensuring victory is a win there. The campaign says internal polling gives Obama a lead in the Midwestern battleground state, in large part because of the popularity of the president's bailout of the auto industry.
But even if Obama loses Ohio, his campaign sees another pathway to the presidency by nailing New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado.
Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are picking up their pace of campaigning, too, and their schedule reflects an overarching strategy to drive up GOP vote totals in areas already friendly to the Republican nominee.
Romney and Ryan start their two-week dash in Henderson, Nev., then hopscotch to the Denver area for a rally with rocker-rapper Kid Rock and country music's Rodney Atkins at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Then Romney heads back to Nevada, on to Iowa and then east to Ohio for three overnights in a row.
The state is critical to both campaigns, and economic concerns rank high. Ryan aides already were looking ahead to a Wednesday speech at Cleveland State University as a chance to tout what a Romney administration would mean for middle-class voters and those struggling to get by. Ryan aides said he will argue that those stuck in poverty cannot afford four more years like Obama's first term and that Romney offers better a pathway to improve their lives through opportunity and upward mobility, including school choice and public-private partnerships.
Romney plans to return to Florida by week's end, before a significant uptick in his schedule during the final week of the campaign. Aides say he'll touch down in two or three states a day, or hold that many daily events in big states like Florida.
Both sides are working furiously to lock down every possible early vote, and the results are evident in the 4.4 million people who've already cast ballots. Obama will detour to Chicago on Thursday to make a statement about voting early by becoming the first president to cast his own early ballot.
"Every single day right now is Election Day," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters on a conference call outlining their strategy to win the race.
Neither candidate scored a knockout punch in Monday's third and final debate, as both men reined in the confrontational sniping that had marked their previous testy encounter. The topic was foreign policy, and Romney went in to the debate with a key piece of advice from his aides: talk about peace in an appeal to independent voters, particularly women, who are weary of more than a decade of war. "I want to see peace," Romney said in his closing argument.
Romney's campaign produced a new television commercial overnight using debate footage of the him lecturing Obama for going on an "apology tour" of Middle East nations while never visiting Israel as president.
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in Boca Raton, Fla., and Nancy Benac, Philip Elliott and Ben Feller in Washington contributed to this report.