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Obama heads to hills, Romney to beach for debate prep

india Updated: Oct 21, 2012 01:13 IST
barack obama

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney began boning up on foreign policy Saturday ahead of their final debate, with the president opting for Camp David's seclusion and Romney jetting to the showdown site in Florida.

As the candidates ducked off the campaign trail, they let their running mates stump for votes in the political battlegrounds that will likely determine the November 6 election.

The third debate will be the final opportunity for the president and his challenger to lay out their policy platforms and engage in verbal jousting in front of tens of millions of TV viewers just 15 days before voters head to the polls.

With both sides conceding that the race will go down to the wire, and amid a consensus that each candidate won one of the previous two debates, the stakes for Monday's clash are enormous.

Obama was gathering his team at the remote presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains. He will fly down to Florida on the day of the debate.

Romney opted for a bit of sun, heading to Boca Raton where he is spending the weekend at a beach-side resort with top strategists and Senator Rob Portman, who plays Obama in mock debates.

With the candidates off the trail, it was up to their underlings to sway voters.

Vice President Joe Biden was in Orlando, Florida, where he ducked into a campaign field office to energize volunteers before heading to an event in St. Augustine.

"We wanted to come to the epicenter of the epicenter," Biden said, mindful that the Orlando-Tampa corridor is the most vital region of the largest swing state of all.

"You guys produce, we win Florida," Biden said. "We win Florida, this is all history, man."

The Republican ticket is placing a similar premium on the Sunshine State. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan shared the stage Friday night at a raucous rally in Florida's Daytona Beach.

Ryan then headed to a campaign stop Saturday outside Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, a state that had been seen as a sure bet for Obama but where Romney has made recent inroads.

On Friday, Obama set an aggressive tone, accusing "Mr Severely Conservative" Romney of being a flip-flopper on key issues and of expecting voters to ignore his tack to the center as polling day looms.

"I mean, he's changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping... I think it's called 'Romnesia,'" Obama told a rally in the toss-up state of Virginia.

Romney struck back, saying Obama's comments marked the "petty attacks and silly word games" of an "incredible shrinking campaign."

Obama has caught flak from Republicans -- as well as from Democrats driven to near panic over the president's slide in the polls in recent weeks -- for not articulating a clear vision for the next four years.

For their part, Obama supporters attack Romney for not revealing details of which loopholes or deductions he would close or end in order to pay for his planned 20 percent tax cut without ballooning the deficit.

Just over two weeks remain and polls show the candidates neck and neck, with battlegrounds like Florida, Ohio and Virginia proving crucial.

Obama won all three in 2008, but as a measure of the tightness of this year's contest, they are all up for grabs, with Florida leaning toward Romney, Virginia a tie, and Ohio leaning toward Obama, according to widely-read poll averages by RealClearPolitics.

The website's national poll of polls on Saturday showed an exact dead heat: 47.1 percent support for each candidate.

That may well be good news for Obama, who trailed in polling after his weak showing in the first debate, on October 3.

As Romney stepped off his plane Saturday morning into balmy weather in West Palm Beach, Romney ignored questions from reporters about his goal for Monday's debate at Lynn University in nearby Boca Raton.

The showdown will focus less on the US economy and more on international affairs, which has been seen as Obama's strong suit, thanks to his withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and his ordering the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden.

But Romney's camp has hammered the president on his handling of the Middle East, accusing him of neglecting ally Israel and of underestimating the threat of extremist passions unleashed by the Arab Spring revolts.