DELRAY BEACH, Fla - With just two weeks until Election Day, President Barack Obama on Tuesday began a cross-country rush to hold onto office in tough economic times with a new booklet outlining his second-term agenda and a closing argument that the choice comes down to trust.
The president emerged from the last of his debates with Republican Mitt Romney fueled by a rush of adrenaline matched by thousands of boisterous supporters who filled the outdoor Delray Tennis Center to hear him speak. The crowd repeatedly interrupted Obama's 22-minute speech with applause and chants of "four more years" that drowned out his remarks.
Obama, with sleeves rolled up, held up a copy of the full-color, 20-page "Blueprint for America's Future" that his campaign planned to distribute across the country — a booklet that offered a repackaging of his ideas in response to GOP criticism that he hasn't clearly articulated a plan for the next four years. He argued that voters want to know what a presidential candidate will fight for and Romney isn't offering a clear vision.
"We joke about Romnesia," Obama said, a reference to his joke that his challenger has a habit of vacillating positions. "But you know what? This actually is something important. This is about trust. There is no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust."
Neither side can claim the lead at this late stage with polls showing a neck-and-neck race nationally and in some of the key swing states. Obama's challenge is to convince voters who may be hurting financially that he is better qualified to lead the country back to economic prosperity than Romney, who made a fortune as a successful businessman.
"Florida, you know me," Obama said. "You can trust that I say what I mean and I mean what I say. And yes, we've been through tough times. But you've never seen me quit."
Obama's campaign was printing 3.5 million copies of his plan to improve education, boost manufacturing jobs, enhance U.S.-made energy, reduce the federal deficit and raise taxes on the wealthy.
Obama also touted economic gains in a new 60-second television advertisement in which he speaks directly to the camera about his plans for a second term. The ad will air in the nine states whose electoral votes are still considered up for grabs — New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado.
Those states were sure to see a burst of activity in visits from the two campaigns, political commercials and voter mobilization in the race that's likely to cost upward of $2 billion by the time it all ends. Obama campaigned Tuesday in Florida and was headed to Ohio, while Romney's campaign plane taxied past Air Force One on Tuesday morning as he headed West to Nevada and Colorado.
With 270 electoral votes needed for victory, Obama at this point appears on track to win 237 while Romney appears to have 191. The other 110 electoral votes are in the hotly contested battleground states.
Asked Tuesday whether the race comes down to Ohio, Virginia and Florida as some observers have suggested, Vice President Joe Biden described the three as "critically important." He predicted victory in Ohio and Florida — without mentioning Virginia.
After Obama and Biden campaign together in Ohio, the president splits off on what his campaign is describing as a two-day "around-the-clock" blitz to six more battleground states. He'll be in constant motion — making voter calls and sleeping aboard Air Force One as he flies overnight Wednesday from Nevada to Tampa, Fla.
The vice president is midway through a three-day tour of uber-battleground Ohio, and Obama's team contends its best way of ensuring victory is a win there. The campaign says internal polling gives Obama a lead in the Midwestern battleground state, in large part because of the popularity of the president's bailout of the auto industry.
Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are picking up their pace of campaigning, too, and their schedule reflects an overarching strategy to drive up GOP vote totals in areas already friendly to the Republican nominee.
Romney and Ryan start their two-week dash in Henderson, Nev., then hopscotch to the Denver area for a rally with rocker-rapper Kid Rock and country music's Rodney Atkins at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Then Romney heads back to Nevada, on to Iowa and then east to Ohio for three overnights in a row. By week's end, he's likely to be back in Florida.
The following week brings a significant uptick in Romney's schedule. Aides say he'll touch down in two or three states a day, or hold that many daily events in big states like Florida.
Both sides are working furiously to lock down every possible early vote, and the results are evident in the 4.4 million people who've already cast ballots. Obama will detour to Chicago on Thursday to make a statement about voting early by becoming the first president to cast his own early ballot.
Neither candidate scored a knockout punch in Monday's third and final debate, as both men reined in the confrontational sniping that had marked their previous testy encounter. The topic was foreign policy, and Romney went in to the debate with a key piece of advice from his aides: talk about peace in an appeal to independent voters, particularly women, who are weary of more than a decade of war. "I want to see peace," Romney said in his closing argument.
For guidance during debate preparation, aides looked to the first debate between Ronald Reagan and then-President Jimmy Carter. "Our first priority must be world peace, and that use of force is always and only a last resort, when everything else has failed," Reagan said when asked how he differed from Carter on how America should exercise its military power.
Aides also encouraged Romney to try not to take the bait they were sure Obama would offer in the form of sharp attacks or distortions of Romney's record. They said they worried about Romney's tendency to veer off track when attacked — and worried he would be prone to making a mistake if he did so in an area like foreign policy, where he is farther out of his comfort zone. Unlike previous debates, Romney did allow some of Obama's criticism to go unanswered.
Romney's campaign produced a new television commercial overnight using debate footage of the GOP nominee lecturing Obama for going on an "apology tour" of Middle East nations while never visiting Israel as president.