US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have entered the final stretch of the neck-and-neck presidential race by taking to the nation's battleground states as the election campaign enters its final fortnight.
With the election two weeks away, the former Massachusetts governor Romney is seeking to harness momentum from his strong performances in three televised debates.
While Obama was judged by polls as the winner of Monday's final debate, on foreign policy, Romney was reckoned to have performed well enough to pass the "commander-in-chief" test.
He has rebounded in polls since trouncing Obama in the first debate on October 3 and was only a statistically irrelevant one point behind in a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday that had Obama ahead by 47-46 per cent. A Washington Post/ABC poll gave Romney the lead by 49-48 per cent.
In what was easily the biggest rally of his campaign, a capacity crowd of as many as 10,000 people showed up - and
thousands more were turned away - to listen to Romney and musician Kid Rock at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, another state that could be critical to Republican hopes.
"These debates have super charged our campaign, there's no question about it," Romney told a rally in Nevada. "We're seeing more and more enthusiasm, more and more support. We're going to make sure that these campaigns and the message of these debates, rather, these messages, keep going across the country."
Meanwhile, Obama warned voters at a large rally in Florida that Romney cannot be trusted to deal honestly with the public, while he has been honest with voters about his plans to deliver a broadly shared prosperity over the next four years.
"There is no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust," Obama told a rally of around 11,000 people. "Everything he's doing right now is trying to hide his real positions in order to win this election."
The charge ties together several critiques of Romney, from shifting policy stances that Obama mockingly attributes to
"Romnesia" to a persistent charge that the wealthy former private-equity executive is more concerned with helping fellow
millionaires than the struggling middle class.
"We're in the homestretch now, and I think the people of Colorado are going to get us all the way there," said Romney, who was accompanied by his running mate Paul Ryan.
Romney is expected to spend much of the last days before the November 6 election in the key state of Ohio. No Republican has ever won the White House without it.
But Romney needs to do better than the last Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, among working-class whites to take the state, said University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala.
Polls show Obama slightly ahead in Ohio, but Scala said Romney can swing the state - and perhaps the presidential race - if he manages to rally Republicans in counties won by conservative rival Rick Santorum in the primary vote earlier this year.
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Now that the debates are over, Romney has turned his full attention to voter contact and has no more fundraisers scheduled, although his wife Ann and Ryan will still do fundraising events.
Obama leads Romney among likely voters by a statistically insignificant margin of one percentage point, according to
Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday.
The president unveiled a glossy booklet outlining his second-term agenda, which will serve as an important prop for his massive grassroots network. The campaign said it will print 3.5 million copies for volunteers to distribute in door-to-door canvassing.
The booklet contains no new proposals, but could help rebut what Romney aides say will be their central message in the final two weeks of the campaign: that the country cannot afford another four years of an Obama presidency because he has no plan to fix the sluggish economy.
Romney spokesperson Kevin Madden called the plan a "glossy panic button".
As part of his message to voters, Romney and his campaign have made central to their argument in recent days that Obama has not offered an agenda for his second term.
"And that's why his campaign is taking on water, and our campaign is full speed ahead," Romney said.
In their final debate on Monday, Obama accused Romney of a reckless and inconsistent approach to international affairs. Romney played down his disagreements with the president as he sought to present a reassuring image to a war-weary public.
Almost all polls after the debate found that Obama won the exchange in the eyes of voters, though there were few signs that his victory would substantially affect the outcome of the race.
"If Mitt Romney had been president when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse we might not have an American auto industry today. We might be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China"
- Barack Obama
Romney avoided gaffes that would disqualify him in the eyes of voters and emerged from the three debates with an energised base, a full war chest and a sense of momentum. Most importantly, nearly half the electorate now sees him as a plausible president.
After starting the day in Florida, Obama flew to Dayton, Ohio, where he pointed out that Romney had said the government should not step in to prop up the industry during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
"If Mitt Romney had been president when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse we might not have an American auto industry today. We might be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China," Obama said.
Florida is also a critical swing state in the election, and most polls show Romney leading there by a narrow margin.
Statistics compiled by the Miami Herald show that Republicans have a slight edge among the 830,000 voters who have cast their ballots by mail already. Democrats hope to even the score with early in-person voting, which starts on Saturday.
Obama campaign officials say their efforts to encourage supporters to vote early are locking in their advantage among
minorities, younger voters and those who less reliably participate in elections.
"The Romney campaign has bet that young people and minorities won't turn out. The early voting is proving the folly
of that gamble," Obama campaign manger Jim Messina said on a conference call.
Obama supporters say they have expected a close race all along, given the polarised electorate and the sluggish economy.