Obama turns up intensity on stump

Comes out swinging at Romney

Looking to turn a negative into a positive, President Obama on the campaign trail is openly acknowledging a less-than-stellar performance in last week’s debate, joking about his stumble, pleading for contributions and complaining sharply about Mitt Romney’s “extreme makeover.”

During a campaign stop at Ohio State University in Columbus on Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s voice took on a sense of urgency as he tried to hang on to a sliver of a lead in the battleground state.

He told students and voters in the crowd to register to vote because it was the last day in Ohio they could do so.

“I know it’s easy to procrastinate in college. You’ve got until 9 p.m. tonight — no extensions, no excuses,” he added. “We have some work today, and we have an election to win. Everything we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012.”

The president also had more big names and star power on hand to help him rev up the crowds in Columbus, a region that helped him carry the battleground state in 2008 by nearly 5 percentage points. Former Sen. John Glenn, a former astronaut and hometown hero, was at the early evening rally in Columbus, as was popular rapper Will.i.am, who led supporters to a voting registration center afterward.

Instead of trying to erase memories of the near-debacle in Denver last week, Mr. Obama did what many of his supporters wish he had done during the debate: He ridiculed Mr. Romney for denying that his tax-cut plan would lead to a higher tax burden for the middle class.

“Just last week, instead of changing his tax plan, he said it didn’t exist … pay no attention to that tax cut under the carpet and under the curtain,” Mr. Obama said.

At a fundraising event in San Francisco on Monday night, Mr. Obama tried to convince loyalists that he still has what it takes to win the election. He repeatedly told the crowd how competitive he is, exhorting them to get to work on his behalf because he “very much intends to win this election.”

With polls showing the race tightening to a statistical dead heat ­— in the latest poll by The Washington Times/Zogby, Mr. Romney closed a 9-percentage-point gap and is tied with the president — Mr. Obama said his supporters will need to work overtime for him to pull off a win.

“We’re only going to do it if everybody is almost obsessive for the next 29 days,” he said, urging the group of supporters in San Francisco to make phone calls, send emails and travel next door to the battleground state of Nevada to knock on doors. “You need to mobilize every resource that you’ve got to make sure that we bring this home. And I’m confident we will.”

Despite the president’s professions of confidence, Mr. Romney’s debate performance and the wild swing in the polls in the days since clearly have shaken the president.

His tone and attitude in the days since the debate were dramatically different from what they were beforehand, and his words and those of his surrogates evoke a sense of rising frustration.

Peppered with questions about the president’s shrinking poll numbers Tuesday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki took out a sheet of paper and recited several of her own previous quotes — two from September and one from Sunday — predicting a close race.

“Did you just quote yourself?” a reporter asked her.

“I did,” she replied. “I just wanted to make the point that we’ve always run this race like we’re 5 points down. We know that there are going to be many ups and downs, some that you referenced, over the next couple of days. We have blinders on. We’re implementing our own game plan. We’re focused on getting our supporters out, communicating the choice, and we’ll sleep on Nov. 7.”

In late September, when polls were still giving him the edge in several swing states, Mr. Obama bounded onto the stage during trips to Ohio and Virginia, smiling and joking about the NFL needing to get back to regular referees and offering light talk about the Democratic convention and first lady Michelle Obama’s speech there.

But in recent appearances, the president has been mostly all business. While he noted that his and his wife’s anniversary fell on debate night, he omitted a joke he told the night before about Mr. Romney outperforming him, which made a.m. headlines.

He also mentioned a date night he had with Mrs. Obama over the weekend in Georgetown, but only to drive home a larger political point. While he was signing the check, he said, the waiter, an unobtrusive young man, thanked him for saving his mother’s life after she had a stroke because she didn’t qualify for Medicare. Because of the president’s 2010 health care law, he said, the waiter told him she could get insurance and pay for her medications.

“Every time I have a conversation like that, it reminds me that what we do is not sport,” he told the crowd. “It’s not simply who’s up and who’s down, and the polls and how much money is raised and so forth. Ultimately, it’s about that young man and his mom, and the belief that in this great country of ours we’re going to make sure that every single person is treated with dignity and respect.”

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