After final debate, Obama says election comes down to trust
DAYTON, Ohio (Reuters) - President Barack Obama warned voters on Tuesday that Republican rival Mitt Romney cannot be trusted to deal honestly with the public as the presidential campaign shifted from televised confrontation to a frantic dash for votes.
After three televised debates that have boosted Romney's prospects before the November 6 election, Obama delivered what is likely to be his closing argument: that, unlike Romney, he has been honest with voters about his plans to deliver a broadly shared prosperity over the next four years.
"There is no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust," Obama told a rally of 11,000 people in Florida. "Everything he's doing right now is trying to hide his real positions in order to win this election."
The charge ties together several critiques of Romney, from shifting policy stances that Obama mockingly attributes to "Romnesia" to a persistent charge that the wealthy former private-equity executive is more concerned with helping fellow millionaires than the struggling middle class.
Romney said Obama is resorting to attacks in the absence of new ideas of his own.
"Attacks on me are not an agenda," Romney told 6,000 people at a rally in Henderson, Nevada. "We haven't heard an agenda from the president and that's why his campaign is taking on water and our campaign is full speed ahead."
Obama leads Romney among likely voters by a statistically insignificant margin of 1 percentage point, according to Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday.
Obama unveiled a glossy booklet outlining his second-term agenda, which will serve as an important prop for his massive grassroots network. The campaign said it will print 3.5 million copies for volunteers to distribute in door-to-door canvassing.
The booklet contains no new proposals, but could help rebut what Romney aides say will be their central message in the final two weeks of the campaign: that the country cannot afford another four years of an Obama presidency because he has no plan to fix the sluggish economy.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden called the plan a "glossy panic button."
In their final debate on Monday, Obama accused the former Massachusetts governor of a reckless and inconsistent approach to international affairs. Romney played down his disagreements with the president as he sought to present a reassuring image to a war-weary public.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the debate found that Obama won the exchange in the eyes of more voters, though there were few signs that his victory would substantially affect the outcome of the race.
Romney avoided gaffes that would disqualify him in the eyes of voters and emerged from the three debates with an energized base, a full war chest and a sense of momentum.
A SUPERCHARGED CAMPAIGN
Most importantly, nearly half the electorate now sees him as a plausible president.
"These debates have supercharged our campaign, there's no question about it," Romney said.
Still, Obama holds a narrow advantage in the handful of battleground states that will decide the election. Romney will have a hard time winning the White House if he does not carry Ohio, where Obama retains a narrow lead thanks in part to his bailout of the U.S. auto industry.
After starting the day in Florida, Obama flew to Dayton, Ohio, where he pointed out that Romney had said the government should not step in to prop up the industry during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
"If Mitt Romney had been president when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse we might not have an American auto industry today. We might be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China," Obama said.
Florida is also a critical swing state in the election, and most polls show Romney leading there by a narrow margin.
Statistics compiled by the Miami Herald show that Republicans have a slight edge among the 830,000 voters who have cast their ballots by mail already. Democrats hope to even the score with early in-person voting, which starts on Saturday.
Obama campaign officials say their efforts to encourage supporters to vote early are locking in their advantage among minorities, younger voters and those who less reliably participate in elections.
"The Romney campaign has bet that young people and minorities won't turn out. The early voting is proving the folly of that gamble," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said on a conference call.
Obama supporters say they have expected a close race all along, given the polarized electorate and the sluggish economy.
"You knew this election was going to tighten up no matter who our opponent was," Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS's "This Morning" program.
To accompany their get-out-the-vote efforts, both campaigns and their allies are saturating the airwaves with new advertisements in an effort to sway the remaining undecided voters. Reuters/Ipsos polling indicates that roughly one in five voters may be undecided or willing to switch their support.
In a new ad set to air in swing states, Obama highlights successes like the auto-industry bailout and urges voters to read his plan for a second term.
"We're not there yet but we've made real progress, and the last thing we should do is turn back now," he says.
Restore Our Future, a group allied with Romney, released two new ads that will air in swing states.
"Barack Obama's economy isn't working. Demand better," one of the ads says.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert, Alina Selyukh and Sam Youngman; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Karey Wutkowski and Paul Simao)
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