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US President Back Obama arrives for a campaign rally at the Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport later Thursday night.
CLEVELAND: In a spectacular finale to a 40-hour campaign sprint, US President Barack Obama launched a searing attack on Mitt Romney in Ohio, the state that may decide their election duel.
But Romney, rallying Republicans in the state’s aptly named town of Defiance, mocked Obama’s “incredibly shrinking” campaign and stole the president’s 2008 mantra, promising “big change” if he wins on November 6.
The latest sharp exchanges came as polls showed the White House up for grabs, with Romney ahead by a nose nationally, but Obama standing firm in the key swing states that could hand him a second four-year term.
The president on Thursday won the endorsement of Colin Powell -- an African-American Republican who served in both Bush presidencies -- sparking controversial remarks by a Romney surrogate who suggested race was a factor.
“When you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him,” top Romney advisor John Sununu said about Powell, who also backed Obama in 2008. The remarks by Sununu, who is known for fiery media appearances, could inject race into a campaign Romney has tried to keep focused on the economy.
Earlier on Thursday, Obama lambasted Romney for opposing his bailout of the auto industry as he campaigned in Ohio, a perennial battleground in which car manufacturing supports one in eight jobs.
“I refused to walk away from those workers, I refused to walk away from those jobs. I bet on American workers. I would do it again because that bet always pays off,” Obama roared, in a populist pitch for blue collar votes.
Obama ended an eight state tour of more than 7,000 miles with 11 days to go before he asks Americans to defy the omens of a weak economy and high unemployment by voting to renew his lease on the White House.
The president’s aides are privately signaling increasing confidence that he will prevail. But Romney has sought to convince his supporters that he has the momentum in the final stretch.
“We want change. We want big change. We’re ready,” Romney told a 12,000 strong crowd in Defiance, accusing the incumbent Democrat of waging a nasty, negative, diminished campaign drained of new ideas.
“This is a time for big challenges, and a time of big opportunities, we have a big choice. And frankly we’re going to elect a president that’s willing to make big changes, and I will,” Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said.
Romney blames Obama for four years of lackluster US growth, while the president warns that Americans have come too far out of recession to risk reversing the progress under Republicans.
Earlier, Obama became the first sitting president to cast an early vote, in a successful grab for news coverage also designed to mobilize his supporters to register their ballots early.
In a slightly incongruous scene Obama, possibly the most famous man in the world, returned to a neighborhood near his vacant Chicago home in a presidential motorcade and presented his ID for scrutiny.
Then he stood behind a touch screen machine to cast his vote, in a move designed to convince supporters to also go to the polls early. AFP