WASHINGTON/DEL RAY BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Facing a cliffhanger re-election attempt, President Barack Obama will launch a round-the-clock, two-day campaign blitz through six battleground states next week to try to fend off the challenge from Republican Mitt Romney.
Polls show Obama’s strong debate performance this week gained him little or no ground against the former Massachusetts governor with just over two weeks until the November 6 election.
The pair are essentially tied in most surveys as Americans remain split between giving Obama more time to fix the economy or choosing a former business executive who argues he knows best how to create jobs.
Obama will campaign in Iowa on Wednesday, then hit Colorado, Nevada, Florida and Virginia, cast his ballot early in his home town of Chicago, then stop in Ohio to end the tour.
“As the President crisscrosses the nation, he will spend time on Air Force One calling undecided voters, rallying National Team Leaders and volunteers and continuously engaging with Americans,” his campaign said in a statement.
Obama usually comes back to Washington after one-day campaign trips, or stays in hotels on longer visits, but on this tour he will overnight on the presidential jet between Las Vegas and Tampa to save time for campaign appearances.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Saturday showed him with a razor-thin lead, 46 percent to 45 percent. The margin has narrowed from Friday when he had a three-point lead, which showed the limits of any bounce the Democrat might have received from the second debate in Hempstead, New York, last Tuesday.
“It’s very much neck and neck. I anticipate actually that we’re going to see these numbers neck and neck all the way to Election Day,” said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.
More closely watched than the national polls, however, are surveys in individual swing states where the election will be decided. Romney has erased Obama leads in many of them or is challenging him for the lead.
The key to the election may be in Ohio, the Midwestern state where Obama has been clinging to a narrow lead.
A RealClearPolitics average of polls on Saturday showed Obama ahead in Ohio by 2.5 percentage points and Romney ahead in Florida - another of the large swing states - by 2.1 percentage points.
Romney hunkered down at a Florida seaside hotel on Saturday for intensive preparation for his third and final debate with Obama on Monday night. It will focus solely on foreign policy.
Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, who plays the role of Obama in mock sessions, helped put Romney through his paces. Most of the Romney brain trust was there, including top advisers Stuart Stevens, Bob White, Beth Myers, Lanhee Chen and Eric Fehrnstrom.
Obama picked the leafy, cloistered confines of the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland for his own debate preparation on Saturday.
Both Romney and Obama were judged the winner of one debate apiece in their two previous sessions, so they are under pressure to perform well when they meet again in Boca Raton.
Helped by the killing last year of Osama bin Laden, Obama has a strong foreign policy record. But he has been under mounting pressure over the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in an attack in Libya last month.
Top Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee are questioning why U.S. spy agencies and government spokesmen initially played down suspected al Qaeda links to the September 11 attack.
But Romney stumbled while trying to criticize Obama over the Libya incident at a debate on Tuesday.
More comfortable on domestic economic issues, former businessman Romney’s campaign put out a new television ad painting a future with a slow economy with rising gasoline prices and debt if Obama stays in office for four more years.
A pro-Obama group, Priorities USA, attempted to raise doubts about Romney with a new ad targeting his tenure at private equity company Bain Capital.
Romney attended the last fund-raising event of his campaign, at a donor’s home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Editing by Alistair Bell and Todd Eastham