DOSWELL, Va. (AP) - Five days before the election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama vied forcefully for the mantle of change Thursday in a country thirsting for it after a painful recession and sputtering recovery, pressing intense closing arguments in their unpredictably close race for the White House.
Republicans launched a late push in Pennsylvania, long viewed as safe for Obama. The party announced a $3 million advertising campaign that told voters who backed the president four years ago, "it's OK to make a change." Romney and running mate Paul Ryan both announced weekend visits to the state.
A three-day lull that followed Superstorm Sandy ended abruptly, the president campaigning briskly across three battleground states and Romney piling up three stops in a fourth. The Republican also attacked with a tough new Spanish-language ad in Florida showing Venezuela's leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, and Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, saying they would vote for Obama.
President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event Thursday in Las Vegas.
The ever-present polls charted a close race for the popular vote, and a series of tight battleground surveys suggested neither man could be confident of success in the competition for the 270 electoral votes that will decide the winner.
The presidential race aside, the two parties battled for control of the Senate in a series of 10 or more competitive campaigns. The possibility of a 50-50 tie loomed, or even a more unsettled outcome if former Gov. Angus King of Maine, an independent, wins a three-way race and becomes majority-maker.
Obama's aides left North Carolina off the president's itinerary in the campaign's final days, a decision that Republicans trumpeted as a virtual concession of the state.
Yet Romney's team omitted Ohio and Wisconsin from a list of battlegrounds where they claimed narrow advantage. The Romney team has made several
The Republican National Committee ad in Pennsylvania aired earlier in other areas of the country. Far less aggressive than many of the GOP attacks on the president, it said Obama took office promising economic improvement but had failed to deliver. "He tried. You tried. It's OK to make a change," it says.
Republicans said the decision for Romney and Ryan to campaign in the state reflected late momentum, while Democrats said it was mere desperation.
Romney and his allies also made late investments in Minnesota and Michigan, states that went comfortably for Obama in 2008 but poll much closer four years later.
In a possible boost for Obama, government and private sources churned out a spate of encouraging snapshots on the economy, long the dominant issue in the race. Reports on home prices, worker productivity, auto sales, construction spending, manufacturing and retail sales suggested the recovery was picking up its pace, and a measurement of consumer confidence rose to its highest level since February of 2008, nearly five years ago.
Still, none of the day's measurements packed the political significance of the campaign's final report on unemployment, due out today. Joblessness was measured at 7.8 percent in September, falling below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office. No president since World War II has won re-election with the unemployment rate above 7.3 percent.
Unemployment alone explained the competition to be the candidate of change, the slogan Obama memorably made his own in 2008 and struggles to hold now.
"Real Change On Day One," read a huge banner at Romney's first appearance of the day, in Roanoke, Va., and the same on a sign on the podium where he spoke in Doswell.
"This is a time for greatness. This is a time for big change, for real change," said the former Massachusetts governor, a successful businessman who says his background gives him the know-how to enact policies that will help create jobs. "I'm going to make real changes. I'm going to get this economy going, from day one we're making changes."
He and his running mate also poked at Obama's proposal to create a Department of Business by merging several existing agencies, including the Commerce Department, and the Republican campaign released an ad on the subject.
"I don't think adding a new chair in his Cabinet will help add millions of jobs on Main Street," jabbed Romney.
The Republican challenger also stopped by Bill's Barbecue, a decades-old restaurant in Richmond that closed its doors during the long recession. Walking inside past the "Do Not Enter" signs, he asked owner Rhoda Elliott what had happened.
"Usually when we have a small hiccup in the economy, they go from the white cloth, which is Morton's and those, and then they - we're the next step, and so we usually fare pretty good. But this one lasted so long they went down the next step, and that's where it is right now," said Elliott.
"Yeah. Yeah. Taco Bell," Romney interjected, offering an example of a more down-market option.
In the campaign's final weeks, his rival "has been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up" policies that led to the nation's economic woes. "And he is offering them up as change," Obama said.