President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney entered the final nine-day stretch of the multibillion dollar presidential contest that has become focused on tightening polls and worsening weather.
As Obama courted supporters in New Hampshire and Romney picked up an endorsement from the Des Moines Register in Iowa while campaigning in Florida, Hurricane Sandy moved closer to landfall on the U.S. East Coast, forcing the candidates to compete with images of the threatening storm.
“New Hampshire, I still believe in you -- I need you to keep believing in me,” Obama told voters at an outdoor rally in Nashua yesterday. “We’ll win New Hampshire again. We’ll finish what we started.”
Eager to avoid the appearance of putting politics before public safety, both campaigns canceled events and adjusted travel schedules. En route to the rally in Nashua, White House aides stressed that preparing the country for flooding, intense wind storms, and potential power outages remained the president’s top concern.
“We’re taking this day by day just like the administration is and just like state and local authorities are,” said campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki. The White House said late last night that Obama was canceling planned events tomorrow night in Northern Virginia and the following morning in Colorado Springs because of Sandy.
Several of the states that could end up in the path of the storm are considered critical to the strategies of both campaigns: Virginia, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
A Washington Post poll shows Obama holding a narrowed lead over Romney in Virginia, 51 percent to 47 percent among likely voters, down from his lead of 52 percent to 44 percent in mid- September. The latest survey, of 1,228 likely Virginia voters, conducted Oct. 22-26, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points and demonstrates how important the last week of campaigning may be for both men.
Romney lost a day of campaigning in Virginia, when he canceled events to avoid diverting resources from storm preparation on the advice of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell. Instead, he’ll return to Ohio and join running mate Paul Ryan on a bus tour.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he’s scrapping his plans to campaign for Romney in Nevada on Oct. 30 as Sandy barreled toward his state.
President Joe Biden’s rally yesterday in coastal Virginia Beach, Virginia, was canceled to keep emergency responders focused on “ensuring the safety of people who might be impacted by the storm,” an e-mail sent by the campaign said.
The storm could also make it difficult for voters to cast in-person early ballots, a part of the Obama campaign strategy.
The closeness of the race has intensified the contest between Obama and Romney for the battleground states. The nine states where both campaigns say the election will be decided account for 110 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
Romney’s endorsement last night by the Des Moines Register, its first of a Republican presidential candidate in 40 years, came from the largest newspaper in the swing state of Iowa. The paper said Obama’s best efforts to resuscitate the economy have “fallen short” and Romney would bring a “renewed sense of confidence” that would spark investment.
“Let’s win this,” Romney said in an e-mail to supporters yesterday, asking for donations to help his campaign expand the number of competitive states.
Campaigning in Florida on the first day of early voting, Romney continued his effort to cast himself as the candidate of change, saying his opponent has run a re-election campaign centered on small ideas and petty attacks.
“All across America, people are paying a great deal of attention to this race,” Romney told 10,000 supporters in Pensacola, who met the candidate with chants of “10 more days.”
Romney supporters insist that momentum is on their side, pointing to national polls showing their campaign with a slight lead. They’re working to turn the heightened enthusiasm into greater turnout by targeting Republican counties like Escambia, Florida, where the former Massachusetts governor campaigned yesterday.
“We’re ahead. It’s the fourth quarter,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Romney backer, told reporters. “We’re getting close to the two-minute warning but we got to win the game.”
Rubio said Romney’s two rallies yesterday in Kissimmee and Land O’Lakes were in parts of Florida with a “significant Hispanic population” and Romney’s free-enterprise message would resonate.
“When big government dominates an economy, people get stuck and they can’t climb,” Rubio said. The fast-growing Puerto Rican community in Osceola County is entrepreneurial, he said.
A banner hung behind the stage at the Romney rally at an airplane hangar in Kissimmee, saying “we need a genuine recovery” in Spanish. An announcer introduced Romney, Rubio and Representative Connie Mack, who is challenging Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, in Spanish as well as English.
In a state that’s 22.9 percent Hispanic, Kissimmee’s Osceola County is 46.3 percent Hispanic, and Democrats outnumber Republicans.
The Miami Herald has endorsed Obama, as did the New York Times last night.
“President Obama has shown a firm commitment to using government to help foster growth,” the Times said in its editorial.
While Romney campaigned in the tossup state with the most electoral votes at stake, Florida, Obama focused on New Hampshire, trying to cut off one of his Republican challenger’s possible paths to a win through smaller states.
“We don’t know how this thing is going to play out,” he told volunteers in Manchester. “These four electoral votes right here could make all the difference.”
Tailoring his stump speech slightly for anti-tax New Hampshire voters, who pay no state income tax, Obama hammered his opponent for raising taxes and fees as governor of Massachusetts.
“There were literally cradle-to-grave tax hikes and fees,” Obama said, pointing to increases in the cost of marriage and death certificates in the state under Romney. As governor, Romney raised fees by $260 million a year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Administration and Finance, to avoiding raising tax rates on state residents.
Four years ago, the president won every county in the tiny state. Now, Obama aides say that a tighter race makes repeating that feat unlikely.
The Romney campaign sees the candidate’s close ties to the Granite State, neighbor to his home state of Massachusetts, as helping erase Obama’s advantage. Romney spends much of the summer at his lakeside home in New Hampshire. Both Romney and his wife, Ann, are scheduled to be in the state early next week for events.
In recent days, Romney augmented his advertising in New Hampshire to match Obama by expanding his reach from Manchester to air spots on Boston stations that reach southern New Hampshire.
Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are airing ads on stations in Portland, Maine, that reach some New Hampshire voters. Obama also is advertising on stations in Burlington, Vermont, that feed into New Hampshire.
Fueling the advertising buys is the roughly $2 billion, evenly divided, that the campaigns, parties and groups that support them have raised for the campaign. The numbers underscore the partisan parity going into the Nov. 6 election as well as the partisan price tag.
With only four electoral votes, New Hampshire doesn’t carry the same weight as more populous Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. Yet, if the race is close, the tiny battleground state could make all the difference: Just ask former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. In 2000, George W. Bush’s win in the state helped him build his Electoral College victory of just 271 votes.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Oct. 23-25 found Obama ahead of Romney, 50 percent to 46 percent, among likely voters in Ohio. No Republican presidential nominee has been elected without carrying the state. The Oct. 23-25 survey of 741 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey taken Oct. 23-24 showed Obama with a 50 percent to 47 percent edge in Nevada and tied with Romney at 48 percent in Colorado.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist survey of likely voters in Iowa Oct 15-17 showed Obama up by 8 points. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Nashua, New Hampshire at firstname.lastname@example.org; Margaret Talev in Pensacola, Florida at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at firstname.lastname@example.org