President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney made late pitches in the political battlegrounds of the upper Midwest on Friday, a region likely to decide the winner in next week's closely fought election for the White House.
In dueling campaign appearances in the swing states of Ohio and Wisconsin, the two contenders battled over the economy on a day when the government reported the jobless rate ticked up to 7.9 percent in October but that employers stepped up their hiring. In Wisconsin, where polls show Romney trailing Obama, the Republican laid out the case for his election and said the jobs report was more evidence of the president's failing leadership.
"The question of this election comes down to this: Do you want more of the same or do you want real change?" Romney said in a suburb of Milwaukee after getting the endorsement of former Green Bay Packers star quarterback Bart Starr.
With four days left until Tuesday's election, Obama and Romney are essentially tied in national polls, but the president holds a slight edge in the battleground states that are crucial to gaining the 270 electoral votes needed to win. On a stop in Ohio, the most heavily contested swing state and a vital cog in the electoral math for both candidates, Obama said the jobs report was evidence "we have made real progress."
Obama, whose federal rescue of the auto industry has been popular in a state where one in eight jobs is auto industry-related, hammered Romney for a recent statement that Chrysler planned to move Jeep production to China. Chrysler has refuted that, noting it was adding workers to build more Jeeps in Ohio, and the two campaigns have aired advertisements over the issue. Obama said Romney, who opposed a government auto bailout, was trying to scare workers in a desperate bid to make up ground in Ohio.
"I know we're close to an election, but this isn't a game. These are people's jobs, these are people's lives," Obama said. "You don't scare hard-working Americans just to scare up some votes." Obama's advisers said the Jeep controversy, which has featured heavily in the state's media, had helped the president solidify his lead in Ohio.
"We all felt prior to this week we were in very solid shape in the state of Ohio, and our expectation is that our position's been strengthened by this," White House senior adviser David Plouffe told reporters. While campaigning in the Midwestern heartland, Obama's team was casting an eye on the Northeast where New York-area motorists were scrambling for gasoline on a third day of panic buying after the storm Sandy devastated the area. Obama won plaudits for turning his attention to storm relief earlier this week, but growing frustration among victims could hurt the Democrat if the federal response is deemed unsatisfactory.
A variety of state polls show Obama still has slight leads in four states - Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and Wisconsin - that would give him 277 electoral votes, barring any surprises elsewhere. Obama plans to visit Ohio each of the next three days, and will close the campaign on Monday with a swing through his Midwestern safety net of Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa.
'LOCK IT IN'
"We want to make sure we lock it in and that it's definitely in our column," Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs said on "CBS This Morning," when asked why Obama was focusing so much on Wisconsin if he had a solid lead there.
Romney needs a breakthrough in one of those Midwestern states, or an upset in another state where Obama is even more heavily favored, to have a shot at making his electoral math work. Romney is within striking distance of Obama in four other states with a combined 55 electoral votes - Florida, Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire.