CINCINNATI (AP) — President Barack Obama, seeking to shore up support among women, intensified his pressure Thursday on Mitt Romney to break any ties with a Republican Senate candidate who said that if a woman becomes pregnant from rape it is "something God intended." Romney ignored the emotional social issue, holding to an optimistic campaign tone as he fought for victory in crucial Ohio.
Obama, wrapping up a 40-hour battleground state blitz, also headed to his hometown of Chicago and cast his ballot 12 days before Election Day. The stopover was more than a photo opportunity — it was a high-profile attempt to boost turnout in early voting, a centerpiece of Obama's strategy.
The 2012 presidential contest crossed the $2 billion fundraising mark Thursday, putting the election on track to be the costliest in history. It's being fueled by a campaign finance system vastly altered by the proliferation of "super" political action committees that are bankrolling TV ads in closely contested states.
Back on the campaign trail, the president made repeated, though indirect, references to Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock's controversial comment on rape and pregnancy.
"We've seen again this week, I don't think any male politicians should be making health care decisions for women," Obama told a crowd of about 15,000 on an unseasonably warm fall day in Richmond, Va. The president's aides pressed further, using a web video to highlight Romney's endorsement of Mourdock and to accuse the GOP nominee of kowtowing to his party's extreme elements.
Romney, who appears in a television advertisement declaring his support for Mourdock, brushed aside questions on the matter from reporters throughout the day. He centered his efforts instead on turning his campaign's claims of momentum into a more practical — and ultimately necessary — roadmap to winning the required 270 Electoral College votes. Ohio is crucial to that effort.
"This election is not about me," Romney told 3,000 people at a southern Ohio manufacturing company. "It's not about the Republican Party. It's about America. And it's about your family." To an estimated 12,000 people at a high school football stadium in Defiance, Ohio, the Republican declared Thursday night: "We have a big election, and we want a president who will actually bring big changes. And I will and he won't."
Romney has disavowed Mourdock's comments, but his campaign says he continues to support the Indiana Republican's Senate candidacy.
Less than two weeks from Election Day, both candidates feverishly campaigned across the country in an exceedingly close race.
Opinion polls show Obama and Romney tied nationally. A new Associated Press-GfK poll of likely voters had Romney up 47 percent to 45 percent, a result within the poll's margin of sampling error. But the race will really be decided by nine or so competitive states: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado.
The urgent task for both campaigns is to cobble together wins in enough states to cross the 270 threshold.
Obama advisers have identified at least three viable options. Winning Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin would put him over the top, as would winning Ohio, Iowa and Nevada. A five-state combination of Iowa, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado would also seal the deal for the president's re-election.
Romney's team has yet to publicly outline any specific pathways to 270. Without a win in Ohio, however, the Republican nominee would have to sweep every other competitive state.
That reality was the motivation behind Romney's daylong swing through three Ohio cities Thursday. Obama finished his day in Ohio, too, with a 12,000-person rally on an airport tarmac — the final stop on his marathon, two-day drive for votes.
"Even though I've been going for about 38 hours straight, even though my voice is getting kind of hoarse, I've still got a spring in my step because our course is right, because we're fighting for the future. I've come to Ohio today to ask you for your vote," said Obama, speaking against the backdrop of Cleveland's skyline and Air Force One.
An upbeat Romney proclaimed his campaign had the momentum heading into Election Day. But there were signs in Ohio, as well as Virginia, that his surge following the first debate might have run its course.
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