MENTOR, Ohio — President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney dashed across the map in search of votes Saturday, the hours growing short and polls showing still that either man still could win the presidency on Tuesday.
A hoarse Obama and a fast-talking Romney found fired-up crowds wherever they went, supporters who waited often for hours in the cold New Hampshire and Ohio morning cheering eagerly and constantly interrupting speeches with loud applause. The candidates fought over issues big and small, desperately seeking some edge that would inch them closer to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Obama railed at Romney as a “talented salesman” who can’t be trusted before urging the crowd to consider the economic gains from the depths of the Great Recession. Romney portrayed himself as a nobler alternative to an incumbent running a small campaign, blasting Obama for urging Ohio voters to vote out of revenge. “Vote for love of country,” Romney said in his speeches and a hastily-crafted ad.
Obama started his campaign day in Ohio, then headed to Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia. Romney began in New Hampshire, then flew off for Iowa and Colorado.
Polls showed a virtual tie nationally and in key states.
Obama averaged a 2 percentage point lead in Iowa, according to RealClearPolitics, a nonpartisan web site. He led by 1 in Colorado. And he led by 2.9 points in Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes are seen as crucial for a Romney win.
Romney had a 1.4 percentage point edge in Florida, the biggest state still up for grabs with 29 electoral votes.
Most of the results were within the polls’ margins of errors.
Romney on Sunday plans to visit Morrisville, Pennsylvania, about 30 miles from Philadelphia, suggesting he sees an opening in a state where Obama has a healthy lead. Experts were divided whether Romney’s strategy is a sign that the Democratic-leaning state might be in play, a concession he needs Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes to make up for a possible loss of Ohio, or merely a gambit to lure Obama into diverting resources into an expensive state.
Campaign talk Saturday centered on planting last minute thoughts in persuadable voters’ minds and sending supporters home eager to spread the message.
In Mentor, Vanessa Pesec, 52, who volunteers full time on environmental issues, said she didn’t mind the deluge of calls from the campaigns. "I take every call. I want everyone to know how well he’s (Obama’s) doing in Ohio,” she said.
Obama has gotten a boost in Ohio in part because he backed the government’s auto industry bailout. Romney opposed it. The auto industry employs one in every eight workers
Obama, his voice noticeably hoarse, took a few minutes first to speak about Hurricane Sandy, whose victims are still struggling with power outages and gasoline shortages in New York and New Jersey.
“I tell them (victims) that the entire country is behind them. We will work with people whose lives has been upended by this storm every step of the way”, he said.
Before leaving Washington, Obama met with federal emergency management officials. After the storm hit the Eastern Seaboard Monday, Obama suspended campaigning for three days. His response was thought to have helped him politically, or at least stopped any Romney momentum.
Obama briefly mentioned his storm efforts to the Ohio audiences, then offered his standard fare. “We know what change looks like and what he’s offering just ain’t it," he said.
He got his biggest cheers talking about the auto industry, and the Romney ad that suggests Chrysler policies will mean Toledo, Ohio, jobs will go to workers in China.
"It’s not true! Everybody knows it’s not true,’’ Obama said.
Romney Saturday told audiences how Obama told voters at a Springfield, Ohio, rally, Friday that they should vote for revenge.
The president was discussing Romney when he was interrupted by boos. “No, no, no -- don’t boo, vote,” Obama said. The crowd applauded. “Vote,” he urged. “voting is the best revenge.”
Romney seized on the remark Saturday, releasing an ad citing the remark and mentioning it in speeches.
"He’s asking his supporters to vote for revenge," Romney said in Dubuque . "I’m asking you to vote for love of country."
The campaign said the messages underscored the two campaigns’ different approaches. "The governor (Romney) was offering a positive message about change and President Obama was talking about voting for revenge, it’s a stark contrast,” Romney senior adviser Stuart Stevens said.
The Obama campaign defended the comment.
“It’s important to remember that the context of when the President said that was as he was laying out the fact that Mitt Romney is closing his campaign with an ad full of scare tactics that’s frightening workers in Ohio and thinking falsely that they’re not going to have a job,” said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Romney got support in Dubuque from NASCAR legend Richard Petty , who said Iowa and North Carolina "messed up" in voting for Obama in 2008.
"It had four years to think about the mistake you made four years ago," Petty told the crowd.