CHICAGO, USA - Barack Obama became the first US president to cast an early vote Thursday, October 25, delighting supporters on a quick trip to his hometown of Chicago, squeezed into a punishing eight-state campaign blitz.
Obama, who jokes with his crowds that he will not reveal who won his vote, then set course for a late night rally in Ohio, shaping up as the pivotal state in a tight race with Republican Mitt Romney, now just 12 days away.
In a slightly incongruous scene, Obama, possibly the most famous man in the world, returned to a neighborhood near his vacant home, in all the hullabaloo of a presidential motorcade and presented his ID for scrutiny.
Then he stood behind a touch screen machine to cast his vote, in a move designed to convince supporters to also go to the polls early, to help him build up a lead over Romney in a neck-and-neck race.
"All across the country, we are seeing a lot of early voting," the president said, saying advance balloting freed voters from having to work out childcare or to take days off work on election day November 6.
At a stop at a campaign office, he warned supporters: "If we let up and our voters don't turn out, we could lose this election. Now the good news is, if our voters do turn out, we will definitely win the election."
The President's aides are privately signaling increasing confidence that he will prevail on November 6. But Romney also sought to convince his supporters, that he, not Obama will spend the next four years in the White House.
"We want change, we want big change; we're ready," Romney said in Ohio, stealing the president's mantra from four years ago and accusing the incumbent Democrat of waging a nasty, negative campaign drained of new ideas.
"The Obama campaign doesn't have a plan. The Obama campaign is slipping because he's talking about smaller and smaller things despite the fact that America has such huge challenges," said Romney, 56.
Romney says that the sluggish economy is Obama's fault for not pursuing policies that will trigger swift growth while the president warns Americans have come too far out of recession to risk the progress with Republicans.
The closer the election gets, the more the bad feeling seems to show. In a Rolling Stone interview published Thursday Obama told the magazine's executive editor Eric Bates, that children had excellent political instincts.
"They look at the other guy and say, 'Well, that's a bullshitter, I can tell'." he said, in remarks widely viewed as a jab at Romney, who Obama has accused of lacking principle and shifting positions for political gain.
Romney's campaign spokesman Kevin Madden offered a scathing response.
"President Obama is rattled and on the defensive. He's running on empty and has nothing left but attacks and insults. It's unfortunate he has to close the final days of the campaign this way," he said.
Obama's team says he still has multiple routes to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency in the state-by-state race, and is literally playing on an extended political map.
After an overnight flight from Nevada to Florida, Obama pumped up a large crowd in Virginia before hopping up to Chicago to vote, before ending the day with a classic of US elections -- an airport rally -- in Cleveland.
In two days that also took in battlegrounds Iowa, and Colorado, and a trip to the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in Los Angeles, Obama covered more than 7,000 miles and racked up 40 hours of travel.
Romney has also done his share of map hopping, but Thursday focused squarely on Ohio, the midwestern bellwether state that many analysts see as the state that could put either Romney, or Obama over the top.
The latest average of polls in Ohio by the RealClearPolitics website, had Obama with a two point lead, at this late stage of a race that has now come down to which candidate can best motivate and mobilize their core vote.
Romney meanwhile appears to have the edge in national polls of the popular vote but the president at this stage is up in sufficient swing states to qualify for a second four year term if the position holds.
The Republican candidate struggled for another day Thursday to shrug off a controversy about comments about rape and abortion by Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, whom he has endorsed.
Mourdock said that pregnancy caused by rape was "something God intended to happen" offering an opening for the Obama campaign, which accuses Romney of backing a return to 1950s-era social policies.
Romney's team says their candidate does not agree with Mourdock's views but still supports him in the Senate race, and the Republican nominee ignored a question posed by a reporter on the issue on Thursday.
Obama meanwhile touted the endorsement of former Republican secretary of state Colin Powell, a decorated former general.
"I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012, and I'll be voting for him and for Vice President Joe Biden next month," Powell told CBS "This Morning".
Powell traced recent improvements in the economy to Obama and praised him as a steely commander-in-chief.
"I also saw the president get us out of one war, start to get us out of a second war and did not get us into any new wars.
The Washington Post meanwhile said it also backed Obama for a second term, a move that may offer Obama a marginal boost in northern Virginia, where he needs a big turnout to bolster his hopes of winning the state. - Agence France-Presse
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