By Ian Swanson - 11/03/12 10:00 AM EDT
Mitt Romney and President Obama entered the final weekend before Election Day battling over the issue at the center of their race for the White House — jobs and the economy.
With just three days before voters to go the polls, Obama and the Republican running to replace him offered dramatically different takes on the economy and what the latest unemployment report says about it.
“Think of that — unemployment today is higher than the day when Barack Obama took office,” Romney said at a campaign rally in Wisconsin, a swing state getting attention from both campaigns this weekend.
Obama emphasized the “real progress” on jobs, noting the economy has added 5.4 million jobs since he took office amid a serious financial crisis and recession, when the economy was losing more than a half-million jobs per month. October’s growth was the most in eight months, Obama noted.
“We’ve made real progress, but we are here today because we know we’ve got more work to do,” Obama told a boisterous crowd in Ohio.
Obama and Romney on Saturday will enter a brutal stretch of the campaign that will see them scampering from state to state in an election that could be won or lost based on turnout and voter enthusiasm in a handful of battlegrounds.
Romney will begin the day in New Hampshire, a state with a mere four electoral votes that both sides covet. He’ll then move to Iowa and Colorado after spending all of Friday in Ohio, perhaps the most important battleground state in the race.
Obama will visit Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia on Saturday in a marathon trip through four swing states. On Sunday, he’ll be back in Ohio, with the trip bookended by visits to New Hampshire and Wisconsin.
The final jobs report will be a key talking point for both sides in a race that polls show should come down to the wire. Yet how much of an effect the report will have at this late date is uncertain.
While Friday’s report arguably offered more of an advantage to Obama, one Democratic pollster said she doubted the figures would make much of a difference.
“I don’t think voters ultimately make up their minds based on jobs reports,” said Margie Omero, the head of Momentum Analysis. “It’s about how they feel personally.”
Obama is hoping voters feel good enough about the economy’s direction that they do not fire him on Tuesday. Romney, for his part, said the change Obama promised in 2008 has not been delivered, in part because of the president’s inability to work with Republicans.
“The question of this election comes down to this: Do you want more of the same or do you want real change?” said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has touted his business acumen and history of working with state Democrats during the campaign.
“President Obama promised change, but he could not deliver it. I promise change, and I have a record of achieving it."
Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday it is a fantasy for Romney to say he can pass his agenda — because Reid and other Senate Democrats will not work with him.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus tweaked Reid for the remark, saying it suggested the Democratic leader agreed Romney had momentum in the race.
“I am encouraged that Harry Reid recognizes Governor Romney's momentum and is joining the hundreds of millions of Americans who are preparing for a Romney Administration,” he said. “While Senator Reid might want to continue Washington politics as usual, I'm confident that there are many Democrats who value balancing the budget, reducing burdensome regulations, investing in U.S. energy resources and will be willing to work with Governor Romney to help grow our stagnant economy.”
Polls show the race tightening, with the possibility that either candidate could pull off victories in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado. While Nevada appears to be leaning toward Obama and North Carolina is thought by many observers to be safely in Romney’s column, neither side has given up on either state.
Romney also will make a trip Sunday to Pennsylvania in a bid to broaden the map.
The Republican faces a greater degree of difficulty in the campaign’s final stretch, as he can afford to lose fewer of the remaining states than Obama unless he pulls off a surprise and wins Pennsylvania.
Obama can afford to lose Florida, Virginia and even New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado as long as he holds on to Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada.
That helps explain the travel schedules of the weekend, which will see Obama and Romney or their surrogates in Ohio or Wisconsin repeatedly.
--Amie Parnes, Justin Sink and Vicki Needham contributed to this piece.