Romney adopts 'big change' mantra
Mitt Romney adopted the mantra that fuelled his opponent's victory four year ago, casting himself as the candidate of "big change" last night in Ohio as he began to outline a closing argument in the state that could decide the race.
On the same day, US president Barack Obama wrapped up a sleep-deprived two-day, eight-state jaunt by pressing supporters to exploit early voting in swing states as a bulwark against the possibility of a surge by Romney, travelling to Illinois to cast his own ballot 12 days before election day.
It was a day of deeply contrasting messages that hinted at the moods and strategies inside both campaigns: Mr Romney sought to keep projecting the air of a winner, focused on an ambitious agenda of reform, while Mr Obama emphasised the gritty mechanics of shoring up his electoral turnout.
Mr Romney, who is essentially deadlocked with Mr Obama in many national polls and has narrowed the president's advantage in some swing-state polls, started a three-city bus tour by borrowing a message of change long identified with Mr Obama's 2008 campaign.
The Republican candidate promised to "tackle the problems politicians have spoken about for years but haven't been willing to deal with."
"It's time for a big change, and Paul Ryan and I represent a big change for America," Mr Romney said after rolling into an afternoon rally in Ohio.
For Mr Obama, reclaiming the change mantle as an incumbent has been one of his singular challenges. It is hard to run against Washington while travelling with an armed entourage and a big blue and white government plane. So the president has alternated between blaming Republicans in Congress for blocking change and arguing that the change Mr Romney represents is actually more of the same policies from the Bush era.
At an Obama rally in Richmond, Virginia, yesterday, Democratic Senator Mark R Warner summarised the argument in pithy form.
"In 2008, we changed the guard," he told a crowd of 15,000 who turned out to see the president.
"In 2012, we guard the change."
Mr Obama made the case, as he does most days, that change has been slower than anyone might wish but that it is under way.
"Unemployment is falling," he said at a morning rally in Tampa, Florida.
"Manufacturing is coming back. Our assembly lines are humming again."
"We've got a long way to go, but, Florida, we've come too far to turn back now," he continued.
"We can't afford to go back to the same policies that got us into the mess. We've got to stick with the policies that are getting us out of the mess."
Mr Romney's new message of change highlights how significantly his pitch to voters has evolved since he entered the race in 2011.
Back then, he devoted most of his time to attacking the president's economic stewardship, even mocking the idea of big change: A standard line back then criticised Mr Obama as trying to "transform America" away from an opportunity society.
Yesterday, it was Mr Romney who called for transformation, of the small-government variety, saying that Mr Obama stood for "the status quo path."
"The path we're on - the status quo path - is a path that doesn't have an answer about how to get the economy going," he said.
"The president has the same old answers as in the past: He wants another stimulus, he wants more government workers and he wants to raise taxes."
Mr Romney appeared to be testing new language as he prepared for a major speech on the economy, which he is to deliver in Iowa today, seeking to build on the energy he generated from a series of animated debate performances.
In a rare moment of political self-analysis, Mr Romney said that "the president's campaign is slipping" and attributed it to the debates.
"They have helped propel my campaign, and they have slowed the president's," he said.
Mr Obama wrapped up his two-day round-the-clock swing through the battleground states of Florida, Virginia and Ohio with his quick visit to his hometown, Chicago, to vote.
In doing so, he became the first president to vote early in person as he sought to encourage others to do the same.
Obama campaign officials argued that he is winning among those already voting.
"All across the country we're seeing a lot of early voting," Mr Obama said.
"It means you don't have to figure out whether you need to take time off work, figure out how to pick up the kids and still cast a ballot. If something happens on election day, you will have already taken care of it. If it's bad weather you won't get wet. Or in Chicago, snowy."
He joked, "I can't tell you who I voted for."
When Mr Obama arrived at the polling place, he signed paperwork as instructed by the election workers and then seemed momentarily surprised when asked for his driver's license.
"Oh, you're right," he said, reaching into his pocket.
"I've got my driver's license. Now ignore the fact that there's no gray hair in that picture."
The Romney campaign made its own pitch for early voting. In Worthington, Republican Senator Rob Portman acknowledged that "some Republicans don't like to vote early" but told the audience that it "frees you up on election day to be sure you can help others vote."
The president planned to return to the White House after 39 straight hours of campaigning, including a red-eye flight from a late-night rally in Las Vegas on Wednesday to an early-morning rally in Tampa yesterday. Along the way, he began to lose his voice.
"You may notice my voice sounds just a little hoarse," he told supporters in Richmond later last night.
"We are right in the middle of our 48-hour, fly-around campaign extravaganza. We pulled an all-nighter last night. We just came from Florida. We were in Iowa and Nevada and Colorado before that. We're heading up to Ohio later today."
It was a wearying trip intended to show resilience and a determination to win. And the president's staff did not seem to mind all that much if the physical strains of his schedule showed, since it suggested he was working overtime for the country's support.
Republicans argued it was a sign of desperation that he was already beginning the round-the-clock trips usually reserved for the final days of a campaign.
Despite the gruelling schedule, aides said Mr Obama was pumped up by rallies that drew thousands of people even as Mr Romney has closed the gap in some national polls.
"He knows this is his last campaign, but he's having a good time out here," said Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman travelling with him on Air Force One.
New York Times