WASHINGTON Vice President Joe Biden and Republican rival Paul Ryan sought votes in political battleground states on Saturday while their running mates took a day off the campaign trail ahead of a potentially make-or-break debate next week.
President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney face off on Wednesday in Denver, Colorado, for the first of three televised debates that could be crucial for the trajectory of the November 6 election.
Obama, who holds a small lead in national and many statewide polls, spent the day at the White House with no public events. He leaves on Sunday for Nevada, where he will engage in intense debate preparation with advisers.
Romney, the Republican nominee, was in Boston at his son Tagg's home. Romney heads on Monday to Denver, where he will engage in debate preparation as well.
The candidates' absence from the trail left the spotlight on Biden and Ryan. The two men have their own debate on October 11.
Biden was critical of the Wisconsin congressman during a rally in Ft. Meyers, Florida, a state with a rich cache of electoral votes and a large population of seniors. The Obama campaign is seeking to woo seniors by warning that a Romney-Ryan administration would make radical changes to the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly.
Biden said Ryan, whose budget was passed by the House of Representatives and included steep cuts in social programs championed by Democrats, illustrated how the two Republicans would govern if they won the White House.
"What Governor Romney did in picking Paul Ryan is he has given clear definition to all those vague assertions he was making during his primary campaign," Biden said.
"He picked Paul Ryan because Paul Ryan does represent the ideological - how can I say it - the center of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives."
Obama and Biden have sought to portray themselves as standard-bearers for the middle class, including the poor and elderly who rely on programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The strategy appears to have legs in Florida, where Obama is ahead in the polls.
Ryan, standing under a sign that said "We can't afford four more years," told a crowd in New Hampshire that he and Romney were more serious about tackling U.S. fiscal woes and accused Democrats of scaring the elderly.
"We need to tackle our nation's challenges before they tackle us. We need to save and strengthen Medicare and Social Security, and we're putting the ideas on the table on how to do that," Ryan said.
"We're not going to try and scare seniors. We're going to save these benefits for seniors and for my generation so that these promises are kept."
An average of polls by RealClearPolitics shows Obama leading Romney in New Hampshire by three percentage points.
Romney's team believes a strong debate performance will help close the polling gap, and Obama advisers say they expect the polls to tighten.
Both presidential candidates are slated to return to the campaign trail after the Denver debate. (Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert and Sam Youngman; Editing by Alistair Bell and Todd Eastham)