In a spectacular finale to a 40-hour campaign sprint, US president Barack Obama launched a searing attack on challenger Mitt Romney in Ohio, the state that may decide their election duel, and labelled his challenger a “bullshitter”.
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 Nov 6.
The closer the election gets, the more the bad feeling between Romney and Obama seems to show.
In a Rolling Stone interview that hit the stands yesterday, Obama told the magazine’s executive editor, Eric Bates, that children had excellent political instincts and could spot a “bullshitter”.
In the largely tongue-in-cheek interview, Obama responded to a question about his popularity with children, saying: “You know, kids have good instincts. They look at the other guy and say: ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’ ”
The comment was widely seen as a jab at Romney, who Obama has accused of lacking principle and shifting positions for political gain. It prompted an acidic response from Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
“President Obama is rattled and on the defensive,” said Madden. “He’s running on empty and has nothing left but attacks and insults. It’s unfortunate he has to close the final days of the campaign this way.”
The latest exchanges came as polls showed the White House up for grabs, with Romney ahead by a nose nationally, but Obama firm in the key swing states that could hand him a second four-year term.
Obama 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 adviser John Sununu said about Powell, who also backed Obama in 2008.
Sununu later backtracked on the remarks, saying: “I respect the endorsement decision [Powell] made, and I do not doubt that it was based on anything but his support of the president’s policies.”
The remarks by Sununu, who is known for fiery media appearances, could bring race into a campaign Romney has tried to keep focused on the economy.
Earlier, campaigning in Ohio, a perennial battleground in which car manufacturing supports one in eight jobs, Obama lambasted Romney for opposing his bailout of the auto industry.
“I refused to walk away from those workers. I refused to walk away from those jobs,” Obama roared in a populist pitch for blue-collar votes. “I bet on American workers. I would do it again because that bet always pays off.
Obama ended an eight-state tour of more than 11,000km 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 signalling increasing confidence that he will prevail. But Romney has sought to convince his supporters he has the momentum in the final stretch.
“We want big change,” Romney told a 12,000-strong crowd in Defiance, Ohio.
“This is a time for big challenges, and a time of big opportunities. “We have a big choice,” said the former Massachusetts governor.
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