DAYTON, Ohio - The endgame at hand, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney plunged into the final two weeks of an excruciatingly close race for the White House Tuesday with TV advertising nearing an astronomical $1 billion and millions of Americans casting early ballots in all regions of the country.
Increasingly, Ohio looms as ground zero in a campaign waged in tough economic times. The state's unemployment rate of 7 percent is well below the national average of 7.8 percent, Obama has campaigned here more than in any other state and Romney has booked a heavy schedule of appearances in hopes of a breakthrough.
The economy was the theme Tuesday as the two rivals put their final, foreign policy-focused debate behind.
President Barack Obama stops to wave to supporters as he takes the stage during a campaign event at Triangle Park in Dayton, Ohio, Tuesday, the day after the last presidential debate against Republican Presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Obama brandished a new 20-page summary of his second-term agenda and told a campaign crowd in Florida his rival's blueprint "doesn't really create jobs. His deficit plan doesn't reduce the deficit; it adds to it."
More than that, he said Romney changes his positions so often that he can't be trusted.
In Dayton, Obama said of his rival: "In the closing weeks of the campaign, he's doing everything he can to hide his true positions. He is terrific at making presentations about stuff he thinks is wrong with America, but he sure can't give you an answer about what will make it right. And that's not leadership you can trust."
Before flying to Ohio for his 17th trip of the election year, Obama also said with a hint of humility: "It doesn't mean that every candidate is going to get everything done all at once perfectly, but you want somebody to be able to look you in the eye and say, here's what I believe."
Romney countered in an appearance before a large, cheering crowd in Henderson, Nev. He said Obama wants a new term for the same policies that have produced slow economic growth and high unemployment for four long years. "He is a status quo candidate. ... That's why his campaign is slipping and ours is gaining so much steam," he said.
Romney's aides dismissed Obama's 20-page booklet as nothing new, and the former Massachusetts governor said of the president: "His vision for the future is a repeat of the past." There seemed to be no end to the television advertising in a season when voters report they are heartily sick of it.
Material collected by ad trackers showed the two candidates and allied groups have spent or reserved nearly $950 million so far on television commercials, much of it negative, some of it harshly so. Romney and GOP groups had a $100 million advantage over Obama and his supporters, although variations in the purchase price made it difficult to compare the number of ads each side had run.
Increasingly, the two campaigns were focused on turning out their supporters in early balloting under way in more than half the states. "Every single day right now is Election Day," Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, told reporters. On that, at least, Republicans offered no rebuttal.