Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney said President Barack Obama's campaign was "taking on water" on Tuesday, as the rivals barnstormed across toss-up states while seeking swing votes two weeks before election day.
With their debates behind them, the candidates raced out of the blocks and onto the campaign trail, hoping to corral the most ballots from the shrinking pool of Americans still undecided in a race heading for a photo finish.
At a rally in Henderson, Nevada, Romney claimed he had the momentum, saying the debates have "supercharged" his White House bid and brought him that much closer to victory in November 6.
"His campaign is taking on water and our campaign is full speed ahead," he said.
The line was a clear swipe at the president's condescending comment during Monday night's debate when, reacting to Romney's repeated charge that the US Navy was undersized, Obama mocked his challenger by saying that working with the military was not like playing a game of "Battleship."
It was a fitting jibe that marked the venomous tone on Tuesday, when Obama warned a rowdy Florida crowd that they cannot rely on his "reckless" and elusive Republican foe.
Romney was riding a tide of campaign optimism, however, and presenting himself as a voice of change, as he sought to peel away the states of Nevada and Colorado from Obama's column.
"His is a status quo candidacy. His is a message of going forward with the same policies of the last four years. And that's why his campaign is slipping. And that's why ours is gaining so much steam," Romney said.
He repeated his argument later on Tuesday in Colorado, where running mate Paul Ryan and 12,000 other people joined him at one of the more spectacular venues of the entire campaign: Red Rocks, the natural amphitheater above Denver which has hosted the likes of rock acts U2 and Coldplay.
"We're in the home stretch now, and I think the people of Colorado are going to get us all the way there."
At Obama's rallies, the president's beseeching tone and the new urgency in his appeals reflect his failure to sink Romney in the debates, as well as signs that it is the Republican, not Obama, who has momentum in the tight race.
Romney has consistently attacked Obama for failing to lay out a roadmap for the next four years.
To counter such claims, the President finally rolled out a book detailing his second term agenda and unveiled a new ad laying out his closing argument.
But Romney's senior adviser Kevin Madden mocked the publication as a "glossy panic button," saying the debates had reshaped the race in the Republican's favor and that Obama was running out of time.
Obama sought to nail Romney as a political shape shifter after his opponent presented himself as a sober man of peace in Monday's debate, toning down previously hawkish foreign policy positions.
He diagnosed the Republican as suffering from "stage three Romnesia," accusing him of misrepresenting and simply forgetting a litany of past positions in a win-at-all costs effort.
"We are accustomed to seeing politicians change their positions from four years ago, we are not accustomed to seeing politicians change their positions from four days ago," Obama said.
"You can choose the foreign policy that's reckless and wrong, or you can choose one that is steady and strong," the president said before heading to Ohio, the perennial swing state that may decide the election.
Later, in Dayton, Ohio, where one-in-eight jobs relies on the auto industry, he lacerated Romney over his opposition to an industry bailout he authorized in 2009.
I bet on American workers. I bet on American manufacturing. I would do it again because that bet has paid off for Ohio and for America in a big way," said Obama, appearing before 9,500 people with vice president Joe Biden.
Obama's verve on the stump Tuesday was a stark contrast to his muted arguments earlier in the campaign, perhaps because time is running out to make his case to the American people.
Polls have shown movement towards Romney following a listless first debate performance by the president on October 3 that appears to have reset the race in his opponent's favor.
Romney led an average of national polls by 0.7% on Tuesday, but Obama still held small leads in states including Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin and New Hampshire that could make him president for a second time.
However, Obama now has little room for any erosion of his position, though he may be helped by the fact that some battleground states are already holding early voting.
Obama's blueprint for a second term will be distributed in toss-up states in email, regular mail advertisements and by hand. Some 3.5 million copies will be printed and the plan is also available online.
The plan stresses job creation and investment in new technology and education and touts what Obama is calling "a new economic patriotism."
On Wednesday, Obama sets off on a 48-hour sprint through Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Ohio.
Romney will counter with stops in three of the same states: Iowa, Ohio and Virginia.