The Washington Post

Obama touts economy as Romney focuses on final debate

President Obama and his top surrogates began making a final pitch for his reelection Thursday, hailing improvements in the economy even as they continued to pound Mitt Romney on taxes and women’s issues.

Romney, meanwhile, used the time to prepare for his final debate showdown with Obama on Monday night.

Trying to capi­tal­ize on the good reviews of his performance in the second presidential debate held Tuesday, Obama attempted to seize the advantage on economic issues which are the heart of the campaign debate and on which Romney, a former chief executive, has staked his candidacy.

“Four years after the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, we’re moving forward again,’’ the president told supporters at a rally in Manchester, N.H. He cited economic indicators that have improved since he took office, including rising home values, the near-doubling of the stock market and a decline in the unemployment rate from 10 percent to 7.8 percent.

Using more colorful language, Obama’s Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, made similar points at a rally in Parma, Ohio.

Explore the 2012 electoral map and view historical results and demographics

“They had talked about the unemployment rate for 31 / 2 years as if it were scripture,’’ said Clinton, who appeared with rocker Bruce Springsteen. “It was right up there with the tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Then all of a sudden, it dropped below 8 percent and they said, ‘Oh, the whole thing is rigged.’ ”

On a day when Democrats tried to rev up their base, they had much of the playing field to themselves. Romney spent the day preparing for Monday’s crucial final debate in Florida. It was Romney’s commanding performance in the first debate two weeks ago — along with Obama’s widely panned showing — that has tilted the race in the challenger’s favor, an advantage that Obama’s camp is working furiously to overcome.

Two nights after their contentious second debate at Hofstra University, Obama and Romney put aside their political differences on Thursday night to trade jokes and playfully roast each other at the Alfred E. Smith Dinner, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York’s annual charity benefit that every four years hosts the presidential candidates.

Obama poked fun at his performance in the first debate: “Some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.”

The Republican nominee, like Obama clad in tails and white tie, made light of his stiff persona.

“A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes — blue jeans in the morning, perhaps, suits for a lunch fundraiser, sport coat for dinner — but it’s nice to finally relax and wear what Ann and I wear around the house,” he said.

That truce was expected to be temporary and came after a day marked by more of the accusations that characterized Tuesday’s second presidential debate in Hempstead, N.Y., in which Obama and Romney repeatedly interrupted and tried to talk over each other.

Vice President Biden, in his typically blunt manner, triggered a furious reaction from Republicans by using a gun metaphor involving his vice-presidential rival, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“Ryan has written a book called ‘The Young Guns’ with two other fellas, members of the House, Republican leaders in the House, and you had unfortunately the bullets . . . aimed at you,’’ Biden said at a rally in Las Vegas.

He was joined onstage by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who accused Romney of lying about his record as Massachusetts governor and said that Romney was “giving used-car salesmen a bad name.’’

The comments brought a swift retort from Brendan Buck, a Ryan spokesman. “Today’s over-the-top rhetoric by Vice President Biden is disappointing, but not all that surprising,’’ he said. “In the absence of a vision or plan to move the country forward, the vice president is left only with ugly political attacks beneath the dignity of the office he occupies.’’

At a campaign event in Florida, Ryan described Obama as having nothing new or positive to say.

“Have you noticed these debates lately?’’ he said to laughter and cheers. “Have you noticed something? President Obama is not telling you what his second-term plan would be. He’s not saying that he’s offering anything new.’’

At Obama’s New Hampshire rally, he ridiculed Romney and accused him of selling the public a “sketchy deal” whose focus was cutting taxes for the wealthy. He also continued his appeal to female voters, who have become critical to the strategies of both sides.

The president also appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” where he joked with the host but then turned serious, acknowledging that even with the killing of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda “is still active, at least sort of remnants of it” in parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

That seemed to mark a slight rhetorical shift from earlier descriptions, in which the president and other administration officials have said the terrorist organization “is on the run” or its leadership has been “decimated.’’

Felicia Sonmez, Krissah Thompson, Philip Rucker, David Nakamura and Dan Balz contributed to this report.

Jerry Markon covers the Department of Homeland Security for the Post’s National Desk. He also serves as lead Web and newspaper writer for major breaking national news.

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