The race in Virginia remains close. Romney has established a slim lead, but the shift toward him seen during the three weeks of debates has slowed or stopped, internal polls from both parties showed.
Romney is hoping to boost his electoral prospects in part by cutting into Obama’s long-standing advantage with women. The AP-GfK poll suggested that effort was bearing fruit, with Romney erasing the president’s 16-point advantage among female likely voters.
Obama advisers insist they've lost no ground with women. But their eagerness to highlight Romney’s connections to Mourdock indicated some degree of nervousness within the campaign.
Romney’s campaign reached out to female voters Thursday by sending Ann Romney on daytime’s ‘‘Rachael Ray’’ show, where she prepared her meatloaf cakes recipe and took cameras along on a trip to Costco to shop in bulk for family gatherings. Mrs. Romney said that, with 30 mouths to feed, her family always eats buffet-style and that ‘‘Mitt is often at the front of the line.’’
The Republican presidential nominee also faced fresh scrutiny of his business record Thursday following the release of newly unsealed testimony related to Staples founder Tom Sternberg’s divorce. Documents show Romney said he was initially skeptical of the idea for Staples, the office supply chain he lauds as a business success story that he helped create.
Romney also acknowledged in testimony in Massachusetts probate court in 1991 that he and other Staples directors created a special class of company stock for Stemberg’s then-wife as a ‘‘favor’’ to Stemberg, who was a speaker at the August Republican convention. Throughout the campaign, Romney has described Staples as a ‘‘great American success story’’ and took credit for its growth to a mega-firm employing nearly 90,000 workers.
Robert Jones, an attorney for Romney, rejected the notion that Romney undervalued Staples stock to help Stemberg.
While the campaigns speed ahead, about 7.2 million people already have cast early ballots, either by mail or in person, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University. In all, about 35 percent of the electorate is expected to vote before Election Day. That would be a small increase over 2008.
‘‘I'm told I'll be the first sitting president to take advantage of early voting,’’ Obama said in an email to supporters, urging them to cast their votes before Nov. 6.
As the campaign enters its final days, both sides are focused on winning the increasingly narrow sliver of undecided voters. Obama made a personal appeal to late-deciding voters Wednesday in a conference call from Air Force One. His campaign is also mailing undecided voters copies of a new 20-page booklet featuring Obama’s second-term agenda, a collection of policies that have been previously introduced.
The president’s campaign also trumpeted the endorsement by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican who supported Obama in 2008. 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.’’
Elsewhere Thursday, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan showered attention on Virginia, telling voters in Appalachian coal country that winning a close race won’t be enough for the GOP ticket.
‘‘The worst thing that could happen is President Obama gets re-elected and we have more of the same with a debt crisis,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘The second worst thing that could happen is we get elected by default, without a mandate.’’
Vice President Joe Biden took time off the campaign trail to attend a prayer service for former Democratic Sen. George McGovern.
Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ben Feller in Cleveland, Nedra Pickler in Washington, and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.