With little more than a week to go until Election Day, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are doing their darnedest to make sure U.S. voters in battleground states and sitting on the fence hear -- and remember -- their messages.
Both will rack up the air miles between now and Nov. 6, crisscrossing the country, paying close attention to battleground states that pundits say hold sway over the election and, more importantly, the Electoral College votes awarded.
Following the debates and the reversal of fortunes for Obama, the president says he's running as an underdog rather than the leader, as he did until the first debate Oct. 3, which pundits generally said he lost. Badly. Enough to swing favorable polling from him to Romney.
"I don't want to lose this election," Obama told his supporters in an email soon after the third debate last week.
The president also is working to blunt Romney's charges he has no plan for a second term and criticism of the challenger doesn't qualify as a plan. Obama's campaign has distributed what it calls the "Blueprint for America's Future," a representation of previously discussed ideas concerning the economy, including increasing manufacturing jobs, home-grown energy, growing small business, improving educational opportunities and job creation.
For his part, Romney indicated he would work the final days of the campaign as a calm but cautious front-runner, the Post said.
After the final debate, conducted at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., Romney said on the stump Obama's campaign "is slipping ... and ours is gaining so much steam."
As of Thursday, RealClearPolitics.com's average of national polls indicated the two were effectively tied, with Romney holding less than a percentage point lead over Obama.
United Press International's poll conducted with CVoter also indicated a virtual tie Thursday, only with Obama ahead of Romney by 1 percentage point among likely voters.
"Obama has two large tasks before him. First, he must get across to voters his just-announced agenda for his second term. He is a bit late in doing this so close to the election," said political commentator Steven Schier, a political science professor at Minnesota's Carleton College. "Second, he must continue to demonstrate why Romney is not really qualified to be president. That's a lot of messaging to accomplish."
Romney, meanwhile must continue focusing on the anemic economy and his plans to improve it, Schier said.
"He has been on message about this since the first debate and will no doubt continue that effort," the commentator said. "It's a less challenging task than confronting Obama."
The battle in the waning days largely boils down to turnout and which side does a better job getting supporters to the voting booth.
Obama's team maintains the president holds a stable advantage in enough battleground states to prevail while Romney's squad says undecided voters are jumping off the fence and landing on his side, The Hill reported.
And both sides can line up evidence to back their bravado, along with some head-game messages about expanding the playing field or sinking money into states some might consider staunchly red or true blue.
The Obama campaign says its candidate holds small-but-persistent leads in polling averages in at least three vital states: Ohio, Iowa and Nevada. As long as he wins Ohio, the biggest prize of the three and which Romney is contesting, Obama could afford to lose Iowa or Nevada, along with five other battlegrounds, and still remain in the White House.
There are several assumptions, though, The Hill noted. The scenario assumes Obama takes Wisconsin, where Romney has not had a lead but is running strong, as well as assumes the GOP doesn't pull upsets Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, core battleground states that trended Democratic in recent elections.
Romney's campaign notes his supporters have been energized since the first debate Oct. 3 -- which pundits say Romney won handily -- and that momentum continues to build.
The Romney camp isn't ready to concede Wisconsin, either, and has aired TV ads there, Politico reported. The former Massachusetts governor has not been to the state since he tapped Paul Ryan as his running mate in August but is headed back soon.
Democratic strategist Doug Thornell told The Hill he felt "pretty bullish," but Democrats must approach the final days of the campaign as if they were 5 percentage points behind in the polls.
"It's not that we are," he said. "But we have to compete with a sense of urgency and not leave the Romney campaign any openings."
Polling numbers indicate the "states that we're playing in are the states we need to win," Romney strategist Russ Schriefer told Politico. "We'll see what happens in the next two weeks. We're going to concentrate on Ohio and Colorado and Iowa and New Hampshire."
The campaigns increasingly are focusing on a ground game that includes last-minute direct voter contact and get-out-the-vote operations.
"Voter interest will remain high now as Election Day approaches," observer Schier said. "The key for each campaign is translating this interest into actual votes through their ground game of get-out-the-vote efforts. ... We won't really know which ground game was most successful until the votes come in."
The campaign's length and political ads' dominance of airwaves in battleground states likely means the effectiveness of advertising this late in the game would be "quite limited," Schier said.
"It's important for each campaign to keep the messages on the airwaves though," he added, "otherwise rival ads will dominate the messaging."
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