RENO, Nev. — Seeking to blow a hole in President Obama's road map to victory, Mitt Romney campaigned in Nevada on Wednesday and had another stop scheduled in Iowa — two battleground states that Mr. Obama carried four years ago and where he now clings to a lead with less than two weeks to go in a tight election.
Mr. Romney told the 2,500 people gathered here at the Reno Events Center that he had emerged from the three face-to-face presidential debates stronger than before, while Mr. Obama's candidacy came out looking "diminished" after being "reduced to talking about, you know, 'Sesame Street' characters and word games and misplaced attacks on me."
"The Obama campaign is slipping and shrinking. The president can't seem to find an agenda to help America's families," Mr. Romney said, before assuring voters that he has a plan that will inject new economic life into Nevada, which has the highest unemployment rate of any state and has been devastated by the housing crash.
"If I'm elected, when I'm elected, we're going to do this: We're going to finally get this housing market going and get jobs again," Mr. Romney said.
The Obama campaign and Democrats countered by tying Mr. Romney to U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who raised eyebrows in a debate Tuesday when he said that "life is a gift from God" and that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, it is something that God intended to happen."
The comments put Mr. Romney, who is featured in a pro-Mourdock ad, in the awkward position of disavowing Mr. Mourdock's remarks, but not the candidate.
Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said that Mr. Romney's continued support of Mr. Mourdock shows that Republicans are "willing to roll back women's health care options."
Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, said that Mr. Romney "disagrees" with Mr. Mourdock's comments, saying they "do not reflect Gov. Romney's views."
"We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest, but still support him," Ms. Saul said.
The uproar over the remarks are likely to follow Mr. Romney to Ohio on Thursday, where he plans to hold three campaign events and which is shaping up to the biggest prize of the 2012 campaign.
Mr. Romney also plans to deliver prepared remarks on the economy this Friday in Ames, Iowa — a speech that the campaign hopes will reinforce the notion that this election ultimately comes down to the issues that voters trust Mr. Romney on: jobs and the economy.
Mr. Obama sits atop a razor-thin edge in the Buckeye State, as well as in Nevada and Iowa, according to the latest Real Clear Politics averages of polls, which have been tightening in Mr. Romney's favor in all the major swing states in recent weeks.
A new survey by Public Policy Polling of likely Nevada voters released Wednesday found that Mr. Obama holds a 51 percent to 47 percent edge over Mr. Romney.
With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, the race is neck and neck, raising the stakes for Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama as they consider which of the half dozen or so swing states they should spend their time and energy in the final days of the race.
Kevin Madden, a top Romney adviser, said Wednesday that the former Massachusetts governor's campaign is confident that the momentum is on its side, and the race is moving in its direction in Nevada, Iowa and Ohio.
"All of these states are close contests that have all been trending our way," Mr. Madden said. "A number of these states show that Obama is still under 50 percent, which is terrible news for an incumbent president. We're seeing much more enthusiasm on our side as well, so we have more room to grow our vote in these states and win them."
But David Damore, University of Las Vegas political science professor, said the Romney camp could be overselling its hand here in Nevada, which has a higher unemployment rate than any other state and home to one of the nation's hardest-hit housing markets.
"Besides the rhetoric from the Romney campaign, there is not much to suggest that he is gaining ground here," Mr. Damore said. "The Democrats smoked the GOP in voter registration ... and the Republicans are getting worked over in early voting."
Mr. Damore pointed out that Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, has been out of the country during Mr. Romney's past two visits, and that one of Mr. Sandoval's top political advisers made matters worse Tuesday when he predicted — while Mr. Romney campaigned in the state — that Mr. Obama would carry the state come Election Day.
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