Romney and Obama vie for mantle of change in final days before Nov. 6 election
DOSWELL, Va. — Five days before the election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama vied forcefully for the mantle of change Thursday in a country thirsting for it after a painful recession and uneven recovery, pressing intense closing arguments in their unpredictably close race for the White House. Early voting topped 22 million ballots.
Republicans launched a late push in Pennsylvania, long viewed as safe for Obama. The party announced a $3 million advertising campaign that told voters who backed the president four years ago, "it's OK to make a change." Romney and running mate Paul Ryan both announced weekend visits to the state.
A three-day lull that followed Superstorm Sandy ended abruptly, the president campaigning briskly across three battleground states and Romney piling up three stops in a fourth. The Republican also attacked with a tough new Spanish-language television ad in Florida showing Venezuela's leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, and Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, saying they would vote for Obama.
The storm intruded once again into the race, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the president in a statement that said Sandy, which devastated his city, could be evidence of climate change.
Of the two White House rivals, Bloomberg wrote, "One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics."
The ever-present polls charted a close race for the popular vote, and a series of tight battleground surveys suggested neither man could be confident of success in the competition for the 270 electoral votes that will decide the winner.
The presidential race aside, the two parties battled for control of the Senate in a series of 10 or more competitive campaigns. The possibility of a 50-50 tie loomed, or even a more unsettled outcome if former Gov. Angus King of Maine, an independent, wins a three-way race and becomes majority-maker.
Obama's aides left North Carolina off the president's itinerary in the campaign's final days, a decision that Republicans trumpeted as a virtual concession of the state.
Yet Romney's team omitted Ohio and Wisconsin from a list of battlegrounds where they claimed narrow advantage.
The Republican National Committee ad in Pennsylvania aired earlier in other areas of the country. Far less aggressive than many of the GOP attacks on the president, it said Obama took office promising economic improvement but had failed to deliver. "He tried. You tried. It's OK to make a change," says the announcer.
Republicans said the decision for Romney and Ryan to campaign in the state reflected late momentum, while Democrats said it was mere desperation.
Romney and his allies also made late investments in Minnesota and Michigan, states that went comfortably for Obama in 2008 but poll much closer four years later.
In a possible boost for Obama, government and private sources churned out a spate of encouraging snapshots on the economy, long the dominant issue in the race. Reports on home prices, worker productivity, auto sales, construction spending, manufacturing and retail sales suggested the recovery was picking up its pace, and a measurement of consumer confidence rose to its highest level since February of 2008, nearly five years ago.
Still, none of the day's measurements packed the political significance of the campaign's final report on unemployment, due out Friday. Joblessness was measured at 7.8 percent in September, falling below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office.
Unemployment alone explained the competition to be the candidate of change, the slogan Obama memorably made his own in 2008 and struggles to hold now.
"Real Change On Day One," read a huge banner at Romney's first appearance of the day, in Roanoke, Va., and the same on a sign on the podium where he spoke in Doswell.
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