PATASKALA, Ohio -- Down to a fierce finish, President Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of scaring voters with lies on Friday, while the Republican challenger warned grimly of political paralysis and another recession if Obama reclaims the White House. Heading into the final weekend, the race's last big report on the economy showed hiring picking up but millions still out of work.
"Four more days!" Romney supporters bellowed at his rally in Wisconsin. "Four more years!" Obama backers shouted as the president campaigned in Ohio.
With Ohio at the center of it all, the candidates sharpened their closing lines, both clutching to the mainstream middle while lashing out at one another. Virtually all of the nine homestretch battleground states were getting personal attention from the contenders or top members of their teams, and Romney was pressing hard to add Pennsylvania to the last-minute mix.
Urgency could be felt all across the campaign, from the big and boisterous crowds to the running count that roughly 24 million people already have voted.
Obama, for the first time, personally assailed Romney over ads suggesting that automakers General Motors and Chrysler are adding jobs in China at the expense of auto-industry dependent Ohio. Both companies have called the ads untrue. The matter is sensitive in Ohio, perhaps the linchpin state of the election.
"I know we're close to an election, but this isn't a game," Obama said from Hilliard, Ohio, a heavily Republican suburb of the capital city of Columbus. "These are people's jobs. These are people's lives. . . . You don't scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes."
No issue matters more to voters than the economy, the centerpiece of a Romney message called the closing case of his campaign.
He said an Obama presidency would mean more broken relations with Congress, showdowns over government shutdowns, a chilling effect on the economy and perhaps "another recession." "He has never led, never worked across the aisle, never truly understood how jobs are created in the economy," said Romney, a former private equity firm executive, in a campaign stop in Wisconsin.
Later in Ohio, he declared: "I will not represent one party. I will represent one nation." Democrats sought to kick the legs out of Romney's late-campaign theme of bipartisanship.
"Mitt Romney's fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his 'severely conservative' agenda is laughable," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Polling shows the race remains a legitimate toss-up heading into the final days. But Romney still has the tougher path to victory because he must win more of the nine most-contested states to reach 270 electoral votes: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire.