President Barack Obama, whose defense-spending plans are under attack by challenger Mitt Romney, was endorsed for re-election today by retired Army General Colin Powell, a onetime chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state.
Powell, a Republican, backed Obama in 2008 and reaffirmed his support on the CBS News “This Morning” show. His 2008 endorsement of Obama helped enhance the then-Democratic senator from Illinois’s standing with independent voters and allay concerns about his lack of national security and foreign policy experience.
Powell, who served in three Republican administrations, credited Obama with stabilizing the economy as it teetered on the brink of a depression.
“We’ve come out of the dive and we’re starting to gain altitude,” Powell said in the CBS interview. “There are lots of problems still out there,” he said. “But I see that we are starting to rise up.”
On national security, Obama’s actions “protecting us from terrorism have been very, very solid,” Powell said. “We ought to keep on the track that we are on.”
The endorsement came amid what polls show is a close election contest and as Obama and Romney raced to campaign in as many of the electoral battleground states as possible with less than two weeks to go before Election Day.
The two have been taking different approaches to rallying voters in states that both campaigns say will decide the election. As Obama targets niche audiences, including Hispanics, young people and women, Romney is focusing on the broader issue of the economy in an effort to reach independent and undecided voters.
“This election is not about me, it’s not about the Republican Party, it’s about America and your family,” Romney told several thousand voters at a manufacturing company warehouse in Cincinnati today.
The former Massachusetts governor said Obama has the “same old answers,” and pledged to “bring big change to Washington to get this country on track.”
After spending the day campaigning in Ohio, Romney will court voters in Iowa tomorrow and then return to Ohio for an evening event. The two Midwestern states, with 24 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, are seen as particularly important in determining the victor on Nov. 6.
Obama, after stumping this morning in Tampa, Florida, and later in Richmond, Virginia, flew to his hometown of Chicago to cast an early vote, the first president to do so. He then travels to Ohio for a nighttime rally in Cleveland.
Obama has been emphasizing early voting in every stop he’s made. “We’ve seen our numbers increase with early voting in some of these key states,” Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman said.
A poll released by Time magazine yesterday shows early voting has helped Obama to a 5 percentage-point advantage over Romney in Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes. Obama led 49 percent to 44 percent among Ohioans surveyed Oct. 22 and yesterday who said they will vote on Nov. 6 or who have cast ballots already. Ohioans could begin voting on Oct. 2.
The president yesterday and today mixed rallies with media interviews targeting voting groups he’s counting on. Those included an appearance on NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and interviews with Hispanic radio hosts Fernando Espuelas and Alex Lucas and African-American radio host Tom Joyner. Obama called his itinerary of stops in Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Ohio “our 48-hour fly-around campaign extravaganza.”
Obama also was featured in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine with an interview by historian Douglas Brinkley that caused a stir over the language the president used. In an anecdote about Obama’s popularity with children, Obama responded to a joking question from the magazine’s executive editor about lowering the voting age by saying:
“You know, kids have good instincts,” Obama said. “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.”
In his campaign speeches Obama has repeatedly accused Romney of changing his positions on issues. Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, said that while he hadn’t seen the Rolling Stone article, “trust is a very important part of this election.” Voters shouldn’t get “distracted by the word.”
Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, said it’s Obama who has betrayed voters’ trust.
“He has broken virtually every promise that candidate Obama made in 2008, including his pledges to turn around our economy, cut the deficit, and change politics as usual in Washington,” Henneberg said in an e-mailed statement.
Romney kept his target audience broad and his message straightforward in his campaign stops, saying Obama has failed to effectively restore economic growth and has promoted policies that will lead to a downturn.
In Ohio today, Romney said a second Obama term would make it harder for Americans to get health care or a mortgage, limit educational choices for children, saddle students with more debt and leave house values to “bump along in the basement.”
He repeated that his five-point economic plan will create 12 million jobs and increase take-home pay for workers.
The campaigns have concentrated on nine battleground states that account for 110 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. The biggest is Florida, with 29 electoral votes. An Oct. 17-18 CNN survey of likely voters there found a virtual tie, with Romney at 49 percent and Obama at 48 percent.
In Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, an Oct. 7-9 NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll found Romney with 48 percent to Obama’s 47 percent, while a CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac survey Oct. 4-9 found the president leading by 5 points.
Outside events also intruded on the presidential campaign. Democrats and abortion-rights groups have urged Romney to rescind his endorsement of Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana whose campaign includes an ad with Romney praising him.
Mourdock, answering a question during an Oct. 23 debate with Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly, said a pregnancy caused by rape is something “God intended” and doesn’t justify abortion.
Romney disagrees with that stance and Mourdock’s comments “do not reflect his views,” Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said in an e-mail. Asked if Romney would withdraw his endorsement of Mourdock, Saul said the campaign still supports him.
Obama alluded to the controversy this morning in Tampa.
“As we saw again this week, I don’t think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health-care decisions for women,” Obama told 8,500 people at Ybor Centennial Park. “Women can make those decisions themselves.”
Romney, during a breakfast stop at a Cincinnati diner this morning before starting a bus tour of Ohio, refused to answer reporters’ questions about his support for Mourdock or comment on the endorsement ad running in the state.