RICHMOND, Va. — A scratchy-voiced President Barack Obama powered through a marathon drive to get his supporters to vote Thursday and planned to set an example by becoming the first president to cast his own ballot ahead of time. Republican Mitt Romney spent one of the precious 12 days before Election Day entirely focused on the Rust Belt battleground of Ohio.
With a new Associated Press-GfK poll showing Romney has erased Obama's 16-point advantage among women, the president tried to keep a GOP abortion controversy alive. Obama repeatedly made a veiled reference to Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's comment that pregnancies resulting from rape are something God intended.
We've seen again this week, I don't think any male politicians should be making health care decisions for women, Obama said. His campaign also has been intensifying its criticism of Romney for refusing to pull his support for Mourdock, even though the Republican presidential nominee said he disagrees with Mourdock's comment.
Romney tried to avoid the subject. While picking up breakfast at a downtown Cincinnati diner on Thursday, Romney refused to answer repeated questions from reporters standing nearby about Mourdock's comment and whether he would call for Mourdock to take down a TV ad Romney filmed for him earlier this week.
At a rally later at the Jet Machine manufacturing company, Romney didn't mention anything about abortion but spoke repeatedly about the choices facing American families. He said seniors on Medicare would struggle to find doctors if Obama is re-elected, daughters would face crushing college loan debt and parents would lose choices about where to educate their children.
This election is not about me. It's not about the Republican Party, Romney told a crowd estimated at 3,000. It's about America. And it's about your family.
The AP-GfK poll showed Americans are growing increasingly optimistic about the future of the U.S. economy, and likely voters trust Romney slightly more than Obama to do a better job of managing it.
Sixty percent still describe the current economic situation as poor, but almost as many think things will get better in the coming year. More voters expect the number of unemployed to go down, too. Forty-two percent anticipate improvement in the jobs picture, up 10 percentage points from a month ago.
For all of the shifting dynamics in economic expectations and voters' growing comfort with Romney, though, the presidential race is still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll's margin of sampling error.
Polls in a number of battleground states that Romney has to win still appear to favor Obama.