Obama sets out on 8-state campaign swing
President Barack Obama set off Wednesday on an eight state, 7,660 mile, 40-hour tour, in a show of confidence and commitment in battlegrounds that will decide the election.
Thirteen days before he asks voters for a second term, Obama’s through-the-night, coast-to-coast trip will take in six of the most contested swing states in his toss-up race with Republican Mitt Romney.
The struggle in Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Ohio will decide which of the rivals masses the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Obama, who has a well-appointed cabin in the nose of Air Force One, will sleep on a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to Tampa Wednesday night.
He will also divert from swing states during his tour to tape an appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and to cast an early vote in his hometown of Chicago.
The trip, already mocked as the “Can’t Afford Four More” tour by Romney’s campaign, comes with Obama tied or just behind Romney in national polls, but still with small leads in a handful of the swing states.
Romney, while taking shots at the president over his trip, had problems of his own Wednesday, as he sought to distance himself from controversial remarks on rape made by a fellow Republican.
Anti-abortion Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s statement that pregnancy caused by rape was “something God intended to happen” gave Obama a new opening to attack his rival’s record on women’s rights.
With the presidential candidates locked in a virtual tie, women voters in swing states could decide the election, and a fresh row over abortion would distract from Romney’s focus on the sluggish US economy.
Speaking at a Senate debate late Tuesday, Mourdock said he believed life begins at conception and opposed abortion in all cases except when the mother’s life was in danger.
“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” he said.
Romney’s campaign moved to distance him from the remarks, with spokeswoman Andrea Saul saying “Governor Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views.”
Romney has said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life.
Obama has long accused Romney and other Republicans of having extreme views on abortion and other women’s rights, and the Democratic National Committee quickly moved to link Romney to Mourdock.
The committee sent a link to a television ad in which Romney endorsed Mourdock, but the ad did not mention abortion or other social issues.
Indiana Democratic Party Chair Dan Parker meanwhile said that, “as a pro-life Catholic, I’m stunned and ashamed that Richard Mourdock believes God intended rape.”
“Do we need any more proof that Richard Mourdock is an extremist who’s out of touch with Hoosiers?” he asked, referring to Indiana natives.
In an appeal to women during the final presidential debate Monday night, Obama accused Romney of wanting to take America back to the “social policies of the 1950s.”
Romney has vowed to be a “pro-life president,” and his current presidential platform supports overturning the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, letting states decide on the legality of the practice.
A multimillionaire former venture capitalist, Romney has preferred to focus on the economy, arguing that women have suffered from stubbornly high unemployment and that he has the business acumen to speed up the sluggish recovery.
Campaigning earlier Tuesday in Nevada, one of the handful of toss-up states expected to decide the election, Romney said Obama’s campaign was “taking on water” after a trio of debates “supercharged” his own White House bid.
“His is a status quo candidacy. His is a message of going forward with the same policies of the last four years. And that’s why his campaign is slipping. And that’s why ours is gaining so much steam,” Romney said.
Campaigning through Ohio and Florida, Obama accused Romney of suffering from “stage three Romnesia,” saying he had forgotten or completely changed his views on a wide range of issues.
“We are accustomed to seeing politicians change their positions from four years ago. We are not accustomed to seeing politicians change their positions from four days ago,” Obama told a Florida rally.
Romney led in an average of national polls by 0.7 percent Tuesday, but Obama still held small leads in Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, states that could hand him a second four-year term.
Mourdock’s rape gaffe could help the Obama campaign regain momentum.
Another Republican Senate candidate, Todd Akin of Missouri, sparked controversy in August when he said that a woman’s body could prevent conception in cases of “legitimate rape.”
Those remarks dominated the US news cycle for days, provoking an avalanche of condemnation from both parties and calls by Romney and other Republicans for Akin to quit the race.
Akin apologized but refused to step aside, potentially dashing Republican hopes of wresting back control of the 100-member Senate from Democrats in congressional elections, which will also be held November 6.