President Barack Obama, whose defense-spending plans are under attack by challenger Mitt Romney, was endorsed for re-election Thursday by retired Army General Colin Powell, a onetime chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and former secretary of state.
Powell, a Republican, backed Obama in 2008 and reaffirmed his support on the CBS News "This Morning" show. His 2008 endorsement of Obama helped enhance the then-Democratic senator from Illinois's standing with independent voters and allay concerns about his lack of national security and foreign policy experience.
Powell, who served in three Republican administrations, credited Obama with stabilizing the economy as it teetered on the brink of a depression.
"We've come out of the dive and we're starting to gain altitude," Powell said in the CBS interview. "It doesn't mean we are problem solved; there are lots of problems still out there," he said. "But I see that we are starting to rise up."
On national security, Obama's actions "protecting us from terrorism have been very, very solid," Powell said. "We ought to keep on the track that we are on."
The endorsement came amid what polls show is a close election contest and as Obama and Romney raced to campaign in as many of the electoral battleground states as possible with less than two weeks before Election Day.
The two have been taking different approaches to rallying voters in states that both campaigns say will decide the election. As Obama targets niche audiences, including Hispanics, young people and women, Romney is focusing on the broader issue of the economy in an effort to reach independent and undecided voters.
"This election is not about me, it's not about the Republican Party, it's about America and your family," Romney told several thousand voters at a manufacturing company warehouse in Cincinnati today.
The former Massachusetts governor said Obama has the "same old answers." and pledged to "bring big change to Washington to get this country on track."
After two more rallies in Ohio today, Romney will campaign in Iowa tomorrow and then return to Ohio for an evening event. The two Midwestern states, with 24 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, are seen as particularly important in determining the victor on Nov. 6.
Obama, after campaigning this morning in Tampa, Florida, and later in Richmond, Virginia, is flying to his hometown, Chicago, where he'll become the first president to cast an early-vote ballot. He then travels to Ohio for a nighttime rally in Cleveland.
Obama has been emphasizing early voting in every stop he's made. "We've seen our numbers increase with early voting in some of these key states," Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman said.
A poll released by Time magazine yesterday shows early voting has helped Obama to a five percentage-point advantage over Romney in Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes. In the survey, Obama led 49 percent to 44 percent among Ohioans polled on Oct. 22 and yesterday who say they will vote on Nov. 6 or who have cast ballots already. Ohioans could begin voting on Oct. 2.
The president yesterday and today mixed rallies with media interviews, including an appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Obama called his itinerary of stops in Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia and Ohio "our 48-hour fly- around campaign extravaganza."
In an interview with the Des Moines Register released as he campaigned in Iowa yesterday, Obama said Hispanic voters will help put him over the top in the election, and that their support will help win passage of immigration overhaul legislation next year.
"A big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community," said Obama, who exit polls show won 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 election.
During the Republican primary contest, Romney stressed his opposition to giving legal status to undocumented immigrants without first requiring that they leave the U.S., advocating a program he described as "self-deportation." Romney has softened his rhetoric on the issue in the general-election campaign.
Also airing yesterday were interviews the president gave a day earlier to Latino radio hosts Fernando Espuelas and Alex Lucas and African-American radio host Tom Joyner part of the Obama campaign's effort to energize minority voters.
Romney kept his target audience broad and his message straightforward in his campaign stops, charging Obama with failing to effectively restore economic growth and promoting policies that will lead to a downturn.
In Reno, Nevada, Romney yesterday said a second Obama term would make it harder for Americans to get health care or a mortgage, limit educational choices for children, saddle students with more debt and leave home values to "bump along in the basement."
Nevada was among the states hit hardest by the housing slump that was a catalyst for the worst U.S. recession since the Great Depression.
Romney said if he wins, "We're going to finally get this housing market going and get jobs and get this economy going."
The campaigns have concentrated on nine battleground states that account for 110 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. The biggest is Florida, with 29 electoral votes. An Oct. 17-18 CNN survey of likely voters there found a virtual tie, with Romney at 49 percent and Obama at 48 percent.
In Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, an Oct. 7-9 NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll found Romney with 48 percent to Obama's 47 percent, while a CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac survey Oct. 4-9 found the president leading by 5 points.
Outside events also intruded on the presidential campaign. Democrats and abortion-rights groups have called on Romney to rescind his endorsement of Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana whose campaign includes an ad with Romney praising him.
Mourdock, answering a question during an Oct. 23 debate with Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly, said a pregnancy caused by rape is something "God intended" and doesn't justify abortion.
Romney disagrees with that stance and Mourdock's comments "do not reflect his views," Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said in an e-mail. Asked if Romney would withdraw his endorsement of Mourdock, Saul said the campaign "still supports him."
Obama alluded to the controversy this morning in Tampa.
"As we saw again this week, I don't think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health- care decisions for women," Obama told 8,500 people at Ybor Centennial Park. "Women can make those decisions themselves."
Romney, during a breakfast stop at a Cincinnati diner this morning before starting a bus tour of Ohio, refused to answer reporters' questions about his continued support for Mourdock or comment on the endorsement ad running in the state.
With assistance from Margaret Talev and Timothy R. Homan in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Don Frederick