President Barack Obama said Mitt Romney is performing “an extreme makeover” of stances he took during the primaries to win votes in the general election, while the Republican challenger intensified his attacks on Obama’s handling of foreign policy.
On a day when the focus was on last night’s vice presidential debate, Obama told a rally before a mostly college- age audience at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, that Romney is trying to distance himself from past positions. The president said his opponent shifted on such issues as tax cuts and health care because his ideas have been rejected by the majority of voters.
“After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding,” Obama said. “These days, Mitt Romney is for whatever you’re for.”
With 29 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, Florida is the biggest prize among the states that have a recent history of voting for either major party candidate.
Florida is one of the swing states where polls released yesterday showed Romney closing the gap with Obama for the support of likely voters following an Oct. 3 debate between the two. Obama held a one-point advantage in Florida, 48 percent to 47 percent, in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey. He was ahead by five points in September.
A Mason-Dixon poll found a wider gap in the state, with Romney leading Obama among likely voters by 51 percent to 44 percent. The Oct. 8-10 survey has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percent. Last month, Obama led Romney by 48 percent to 47 percent in the poll.
Romney yesterday escalated his criticism of the president’s handling of the attack in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, firing back at accusations by the Obama campaign that Republicans have politicized the assault.
“No, President Obama, it’s an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated,” Romney said at a rally in Asheville, North Carolina. “These are very serious questions and the American people deserve serious answers.”
Obama’s campaign last night accused Romney of seeking to exploit the incident for political gain.
“From the time of the attack in Libya, Mitt Romney has stopped at nothing to politicize these events - and he wasted no time in proving that point in North Carolina today,” Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Both Romney and Obama were campaigning before Vice President Joe Biden and Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, faced off last night in Danville, Kentucky, in their only debate. Obama and Romney will square off two more times later this month.
Shortly before the rally, Romney called Ryan to wish him good luck. Romney watched the event from his hotel room at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, with staff members and a donor who won a lottery contest.
Obama said after the vice presidential debate that Biden was “terrific tonight,” adding, “I could not be prouder of him. I thought he made a very strong case and I really think that his passion for making sure the economy grows for the middle class came through.”
North Carolina, a battleground state that Obama won four years ago, is now trending Republican. Romney was greeted by thunderous applause at the Asheville rally, and he struck an upbeat tone in advance of the vice-presidential debate.
“Now, I enjoyed my debate about a week ago,” Romney told supporters, “and I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy tonight’s debate as well.”
Earlier yesterday, Romney met privately with father and son evangelists Billy and Franklin Graham at the family’s home in Montreat, North Carolina. The visit came two days after the former Massachusetts governor played down his plans to fight abortion rights.
The meeting was part of an effort by Romney’s campaign to reassure some in the Republican party that he would stand with them on fighting abortion rights and same-sex marriage, even as he works to moderate the tone of his message for swing voters. In an Oct. 9 interview with the Des Moines Register, Romney said he wouldn’t pursue abortion-related legislation as president.
The visit to Billy Graham’s mountaintop retreat is a standard stop for Republican presidential candidates eager to boost their support from evangelical voters. Romney’s Mormon religion has been viewed with varying degrees of skepticism by evangelical Christians, some of whom consider it a non-Christian cult.
“Prayer is the most helpful thing you can do for me,” Romney told the Grahams at the end of the meeting as reporters were ushered in. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a pastor and favorite of evangelicals, joined Romney at last night’s rally in Asheville.
Billy Graham, 93, released a statement after the meeting praising Romney’s “values and strong moral convictions.”
Obama said at yesterday’s rally in Florida that his policies are “getting us out of this mess,” referring to the economic crisis he inherited upon taking office in January 2009.
He said he cut taxes for middle-class families, expanded health insurance coverage, rescued the U.S. auto industry and approved the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. Noting that the national unemployment rate of 7.8 percent last month is the lowest since he became president, Obama said, “We have come too far to turn back now.”
Yesterday was Obama’s 22nd visit to Florida since taking office and his 12th this year, according to his campaign. Obama has been urging his supporters in the state to take advantage of early voting that begins in Florida on Oct. 27.
At a fundraiser at a hotel last night in Miami, Obama said Romney has “a case of amnesia” about proposals that may be unpopular with swing voters.
Republicans “expect that you’ve forgotten what happened” in the 2008 economic crisis, for which Obama said Republican policies were largely to blame. He said Romney sounded like President George W. Bush in saying that tax cuts would pay for themselves.
The event, one of the final fundraisers before the Nov. 6 election, drew about 700 donors paying $500 per ticket and featured actress Eva Longoria.
To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Coral Gables, Florida at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Lerer in Asheville, North Carolina at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com