US President Barack Obama seized on a Republican Senate candidate's controversial remark about rape and pregnancy in an attempt to shore up his support among women.
Mr Obama intensified pressure on challenger Mitt Romney to break ties with Richard Mourdock over the Indiana Senate candidate's comment that if a woman becomes pregnant from rape it is "something God intended".
Obama aides used a web video to highlight Mr Romney's endorsement of Mr Mourdock and to accuse him of kow-towing to his party's extreme elements.
Mr Mourdock's remark again brought the divisive issue of abortion to the forefront of the US presidential campaign, distracting from the economic issues Mr Romney has been trying to focus on in the last days before the November 6 election.
For the Obama camp it offered another chance to highlight its differences with the Republican ticket on abortion. The president had long enjoyed an edge among women votes, but a recent AP-GfK poll found Mr Romney erasing the president's 16-point advantage among female likely voters.
The president, who supports abortion rights, also made repeated, though indirect, references to Mr Mourdock's controversial comment.
"We've seen again this week, I don't think any male politicians should be making health care decisions for women," Mr Obama told a crowd of about 15,000 in Richmond, Virginia.
The candidates are running in a virtual dead heat ahead of the election and a significant lead among women voters could easily tip the balance.
Mr Romney, who appears in a television advertisement declaring his support for Mr Mourdock, brushed aside questions on the emotional controversy from reporters throughout the day.
A day earlier, he disavowed Mr Mourdock's comments, although his campaign said Mr Romney continued to support the Indiana Republican's Senate candidacy. Mr Romney opposes abortion but unlike Mr Mourdock, supports exceptions in the case of rape.
Opinion polls show Mr Obama and Mr Romney tied nationally. A new Associated Press-GfK poll of likely voters had Mr Romney up 47% to 45%, a result within the poll's margin of sampling error.
But because the US presidential race is not decided by popular vote, but rather on a state-by-state basis, the election will hinge on nine or so competitive states: Ohio; Florida; Virginia; North Carolina; New Hampshire; Iowa; Wisconsin; Nevada; and Colorado.
Less than two weeks from election day, both candidates feverishly campaigned across the country.
Mr Obama, wrapping up a 40-hour battleground state blitz, was heading for his home town of Chicago to cast his ballot 12 days before election day. The stopover was more than a photo opportunity - it was a high-profile attempt to boost turnout in early voting, a centrepiece of Mr Obama's strategy.
"I'm told I'll be the first sitting president to take advantage of early voting," he said in an email to supporters, urging them to cast their votes before November 6.
An upbeat Mr Romney proclaimed his campaign had the momentum heading into election day. But there are signs in Ohio, as well as Virginia, that his surge following the first debate has run its course.
While the campaigns speed ahead, about 7.2 million people have already cast early ballots, either by mail or in person, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University. In all, about 35% of the electorate is expected to vote before election day. That would be a small increase over 2008.
The president's campaign also trumpeted the endorsement by former secretary of state Colin Powell, a Republican who supported Mr Obama in 2008.
Mr Powell praised Obama's handling of the economic recovery, telling CBS This Morning: "I think we've begun to come out of the dive and we're gaining altitude."