By Brian MacQuarrie
and Callum Borchers
CONCORD, N.H. — The presidential candidates on Sunday turned their marathon campaign into a mad sprint to Election Day, from a chilled rally for President Obama in the shadow of the New Hampshire State House to an appeal by Republican challenger Mitt Romney for votes at a farm in Morrisville, Pa.
The race remains extremely close, with both men predicting victory on Tuesday but passionately urging their supporters to vote.
“We will win New Hampshire,” Obama told an estimated 14,000 people jammed shoulder to shoulder behind the state Capitol here, many of whom had been waiting three hours to hear him. “We will win this election. We will finish what we started.”
Dressed in an aviator-style jacket and sweater, Obama appeared buoyant and smiled often as he launched into a 30-minute stump speech after a spirited introduction by former president Bill Clinton.
“As long as I’m president, I will work with anybody of any party to move this country forward,” Obama said, adding that he would not sacrifice his principles in the process. “That’s not bipartisanship. That’s certainly not change. That is surrender to the same status quo that has squeezed middle-class families for way too long.”
Romney campaigned in four states on Sunday, including Pennsylvania for just the second time since July. The Republican nominee has only recently begun to contest the Keystone State in earnest, buying ads there last week as polls tightened, but he struck a confident note. “We’re taking back the White House because we’re going to win Pennsylvania,” Romney told an estimated 25,000 at Shady Brook Farm in Morrisville. The GOP nominee painted an optimistic portrait of an America that “is about to come roaring back.”
“We’re Americans. We can do anything,” Romney said. “The only thing that stands between us and some of the best years we’ve known is lack of leadership. And that’s why we have elections.”
When Romney last visited Pennsylvania in late September, multiple polls put Obama’s advantage in the state at or near double digits. But a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review survey released on Sunday showed Romney even with Obama at 47 percent each.
“Pennsylvania has moved into a tie,” Rich Beeson, the Romney campaign’s political director, declared on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that the state is “fertile ground for us.”
Another poll published on Sunday by The Morning Call of Allentown put Obama up by 3 points in Pennsylvania, and an average of recent surveys, tabulated by the website RealClearPolitics, shows the president up by 3.9 points. Romney has not led Pennsylvania in any major poll since February.
With most polling data on Obama’s side, White House adviser David Plouffe called Romney’s late play in Pennsylvania a “desperate ploy” in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”
Yet a win by Romney there would shake up the political landscape and reduce his need to win in Ohio, where Obama maintains a slight lead in most polls.
The Obama campaign continues to devote resources to Pennsylvania. Clinton will speak at four rallies in Pennsylvania on Monday.
“I think Pennsylvania is secure, but you don’t take anything for granted,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The campaigns made contradictory arguments about Florida, where Romney has maintained a small but steady lead for the last month but Obama says he has victory in sight. The president made a campaign stop in south Florida on Sunday, and Michelle Obama is slated to be in Orlando on Monday.
David Axelrod, the Obama campaign’s senior adviser, pointed to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released over the weekend that gave the president a 2-point edge in Florida, a departure from the slight Romney leads shown by most other surveys.
Beeson countered that the president is wasting his time in Florida — precisely what the Obama campaign said Romney is doing in Pennsylvania.
Romney, however, plans to campaign in the Orlando area Monday, one of his last rallies of the campaign.
The thin margins separating the candidates in battleground polls, most of which favor Obama slightly, have turned the late stages of the campaign into an aggressive fight in a handful of areas. A WMUR poll published on Saturday showed Obama and Romney tied at 47 percent in the Granite State. The president led by 15 points in the same poll in early October. Romney campaigned in the state on Saturday and will return to Manchester, N.H., on Monday for a final rally.
In Concord Sunday, Obama attacked Romney on his tax-cut plan, which the president said would unfairly benefit the wealthy, and on declining to be specific about budget cuts if elected. Those criticisms have become familiar in this campaign. But on Sunday, the president also became introspective, acknowledging he is frustrated that he did not accomplish as much as he hoped in his first term. “I’ve got the scars to prove it. I’ve got the gray hairs to show for it,” Obama said.
In addition to his rallies in New Hampshire and Florida, Obama visited Ohio and Colorado Sunday. Romney started his day in Iowa and Ohio before the speech in Pennsylvania.
In Cleveland, Romney said Obama has failed to ease partisan tensions in Washington.
“Instead of bridging the divide, he has made it wider,” Romney said. “So many of you look at the big debates in this country and you don’t look at them as a Republican or Democrat but first as an American. You have watched what has happened in this country over the last four years with an independent voice. You hoped that President Obama would live up to his promise to bring people together to solve big problems but he hasn’t, and I will.”
Romney ended the night in Newport News, Va.
Nationally, the race is in a dead heat. An ABC News/Washington Post poll published on Sunday showed Obama and Romney tied at 48 percent. The NBC/Wall Street Journal survey gave Obama a 1-point lead, 48 percent to 47 percent, well within the margin of error.
The Pew Research Center on Sunday predicted that Obama will win the national popular vote, 50 percent to 47 percent, based on its final poll. Pew closely predicted the popular vote four years ago.Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com. Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.