MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to win Ohio voters Wednesday by promising new jobs, while President Barack Obama urged his supporters to stay focused even though he acknowledged losing his first debate because he said he "was just too polite."
"I think it's fair to say we will see a little more activity at the next one," Obama told radio host Tom Joyner, looking forward to the second of three debates the White House rivals have planned this month.
Romney got some preparation for Tuesday's town hall-style debate at New York's Hofstra University by taking questions from voters at a manufacturing plant. Confusion over what action he'd take on abortion, if elected, forced the candidate to reiterate, "I'll be a pro-life president."
The Romney campaign has new hope it can win over working-class voters after his sharp debate performance last week, with polls in Ohio and elsewhere showing signs of a bounce. A new CNN poll showed Obama leading Romney 51 percent to 47 percent among likely Ohio voters, depicting a tighter race. "Great response here in Ohio," Romney told reporters traveling with him as he shook voters' hands. "Love it."
The Romney campaign tried to maintain his momentum by revealing two television ads Wednesday that feature video from the first debate. Both use video of Romney criticizing Obama's stewardship of the economy while the president looks down silently.
In his radio interview, Obama said the race would always be close after Americans have "just gone through four really tough years."
"Gov. Romney kept on making mistakes month after month so it made it look artificially like this was, might end up being a cakewalk," Obama said. "But we understood internally that it never would be."
Obama compared his debate performance to losing one game of a seven-game championship series in basketball. Joyner interjected, saying "Yeah, but you had the open shot and you didn't take it."
"Yeah, I understand," Obama said. "But, you know, what happens though is that when people lose one game, you know, this is a long haul."
The president predicted that "by next week, I think a lot of the hand-wringing will be complete because we're going to go ahead and win this thing." He encouraged his supporters to pay close attention to approaching voter registration deadlines.
Before Obama and Romney face off on Tuesday, attention first turns to the vice presidential debate Thursday night in Kentucky. While both campaigns tried to downplay expectations before the first presidential debate, the pair expressed confidence in their running mates.
"Paul Ryan will do great," Romney said. Obama, who plans to watch from Air Force One on a flight back from a campaign stop in Miami, said Vice President Joe Biden "will be terrific."
While he's made some gains since his strong debate performance, Romney is still trying to recover from his secretly videotaped remarks that 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes believe they are victims, especially among working-class voters. He targeted those voters in a visit to the Ariel Corp., which makes compressors to extract and distribute natural gas, touring the factory floor and shaking workers' hands.
"My whole passion is about helping the American people who are struggling right now," Romney said in his town hall after the tour. "That's what this is about. The president says he's for the middle class. How have they done under his presidency? Not so well. I want to help the middle class get good jobs and better take-home pay. I know how to do that."
Romney's comments on abortion to an Iowa newspaper brought new attention to social issues.
Romney told The Des Moines Register in an interview Tuesday that he would not pursue any abortion-related legislation if elected president. His campaign tried to walk back the remarks, saying he would support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life, without elaborating.
Obama's campaign jumped on the apparent shift to shore up support among women. Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told reporters on a conference call that Romney was "cynically and dishonestly" hiding his positions on abortion and other women's issues and that the incumbent's campaign would seek to ensure that women are "not fooled."
Romney told reporters in Ohio that he would end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and reinstate an administrative ban, known as the Mexico City policy, on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions.
"I think I've said time and again that I'm a pro-life candidate and I'll be a pro-life president," Romney said.
"The actions I'll take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget," Romney said. "And also I've indicated I'll reverse the Mexico City position of the president. I will reinstate the Mexico City policy, which keeps us from using foreign aid for abortions overseas."
Romney's campaign also reached out to women voters in new ways Wednesday. The candidate noted at the top of his town hall that he was wearing a pin in honor of breast cancer awareness month and his wife was a guest host on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Mrs. Romney spoke intimately about her depression after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 14 years ago and how horses helped her overcome it.
"I was very, very weak and very much worried about my life, thinking I was going to be in a wheelchair as well. Turned to horses, my life has been dramatically different," said Mrs. Romney, part-owner of a horse that competed this summer in the Olympic sport of dressage. "They gave me the energy, the passion to get out of bed when I was so sick that I didn't think I'd ever want to get out of bed."
In a separate interview broadcast Wednesday on Fox News Channel's "America's Newsroom," Mrs. Romney said she immediately knew as the first presidential debate began last week that her husband would win because of the energy he showed. And she sharply disputed accusations from Obama's campaign that her husband failed to tell the truth during the debate.
"It's sort of like someone that, you know, in the sandbox that, like, lost the game. And they're just going to kick sand in someone's face and say, 'You liar,'" she said. "I mean, it's like they lost, and so now they just are going to say, 'OK, the game, you know, we didn't like the game.' So it's to me, it's poor sportsmanship."
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Julie Pace and Ben Feller contributed to this report.
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