Presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to keep voters focused on the US economy Friday instead of a fellow Republican's comments that pregnancy caused by rape "is something God intended."
With President Barack Obama spending the day at the White House after a two-day dash across eight battleground states that will determine the tight election, Romney gave what he called a major speech on the economy, the top issue among voters with less than two weeks left before November 6.
Romney, however, faced questions about the remarks of Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and new questions about his role in a key supporter's divorce. Court documents released Thursday revealed that Romney created a special class of company stock for Staples founder Tom Stemberg's then-wife as a "favor." Romney uses his equity capital firm Bain's involvement in the creation of the office supply company to show off his business skills.
Romney has tried to ignore both lines of attack, instead accusing Obama of playing partisan politics in an "incredibly shrinking campaign."
Opinion polls show Obama and Romney tied nationally. A new Associated Press-GfK poll of likely voters had Romney up 47 per cent to 45 per cent, a result within the poll's margin of sampling error.
The presidential contest has crossed the $2 billion fundraising mark, putting the election on track to be the costliest in history. It's being fueled by a campaign finance system vastly altered by the new proliferation of independent political action committees that are bankrolling TV ads in closely contested states
Romney delivered his speech on the economy in the battleground state of Iowa. "Instead of more spending, more borrowing from China and higher taxes from Washington, we'll renew our faith in the power of free people pursuing their dreams," he said. He argued that Obama has no proposals that can meet "the challenges of the times."
The government on Friday said US economic growth improved to a slightly faster 2 per cent rate in the third quarter, but Romney called that "discouraging" and said he could do better.
Tepid growth has given Romney an opening to challenge Obama's assessment that the economy is moving in the right direction. While Romney is seen by voters as better qualified to handle the economy recovery, recent polling shows Americans are increasingly positive about the direction of the country.
Obama returned to Washington late Thursday after a 40-hour, coast-to-coast tour of eight battleground states. On Friday, he will reach out to key constituencies in an MTV interview aimed at rallying the youth vote and an interview with American Urban Radio Networks, which has a largely black audience.
The US presidential race is not decided by popular vote but on a state-by-state basis. The outcome depends on nine of the 50 US states Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado that do not reliably vote Democrat or Republican.
Obama on Thursday intensified pressure on Romney to break ties with Mourdock over the candidate's remarks on abortion.
The comments offered the Obama campaign a new opportunity to highlight differences with Romney on an issue important to women. The president had long enjoyed an edge with that voting bloc, but a recent Associated Press-GfK poll found Romney had erased the president's 16-point advantage among female likely voters.
With the candidates virtually tied in national polling, a significant lead among women voters could tip the balance.
Romney, who appears in a television advertisement declaring his support for Mourdock, brushed aside questions from reporters Thursday. Romney opposes abortion but unlike Mourdock, supports exceptions in the case of rape.
Obama's campaign also turned to foreign policy on Friday, with a new ad showing images of Obama's trip to Israel and video of his pledge during his final debate with Romney that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon while he's president and that "our bond with Israel will be unbreakable."
The ad could have an impact particularly with Jewish voters in battleground state Florida.
Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg responded that Obama's Middle East policy "has been a failure."