JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After a fleeting truce on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the race for the White House is heating up again, with negative ads free to fly again and the candidates spreading out across the battleground states that will decide the Nov. 6 election.
In a campaign speech and a new TV ad, President Barack Obama was accusing Republican nominee Mitt Romney of failing to explain how he would pay for trillions of dollars in tax cuts.
Eying the possible electoral paths to victory, both campaigns are jockeying more in Wisconsin, a state that has long swung to Democrats in presidential elections.
Romney, in the midst of a campaign week that has slingshot him across the U.S., was holding one event Wednesday — at his own campaign office in Jacksonville, Florida. He was expected to make the case that the nation's debt is undermining job creation and economic growth.
Obama was heading west, to Nevada, where he planned to hit Romney and vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan with charges of secrecy. The Obama campaign says the two Republicans are refusing to tell voters how they could pay for tax cuts that disproportionately help the wealthy without having to gut deductions for middle-class taxpayers.
An Obama campaign ad making that point will start running in Iowa, Virginia, Nevada and Ohio. Those four states, plus Florida, New Hampshire and Colorado, continue to draw the most campaign time and money, with others states looming on the margins as possible toss-ups.
One of those is Wisconsin, home state of the Republican congressman Ryan, who will be holding a town hall in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Wednesday as the race in the state appears to be tightening. For the first time, Obama's campaign was airing TV ads in Wisconsin, starting Wednesday. They come after Romney started running his own spots there Sunday.
Ryan and Vice-President Joe Biden will also campaign in Ohio on Wednesday.
Polls show that Obama has opened up a slight lead over Romney in the aftermath of the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The three presidential debates, starting on Oct. 3, give Romney his best chance to pull ahead.
Tens of millions of voters in most parts of the United States are not being wooed directly, as their states are already considered to tilt clearly toward Obama or Romney.
The importance of the eight or so swing states derives from their unpredictability and the U.S. presidential election process, which depends on the electoral college and not the popular vote. The candidate with the most votes in each state gets the electors allocated to that state — with 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency.
Obama appears to have more favourable paths to the 270 electoral votes he needs for a second term, but in a shaky economy, he is in a hard fight.
With 55 days left until the election, Obama and Romney were keeping a steady pace of post-convention events, but hardly one that screamed urgency.
Romney spent much of his Tuesday in the air, flying from the Chicago area to Reno, Nevada, for a speech on the legacy of the Sept. 11 attacks before moving onto Florida.
His morning event in Jacksonville is his only scheduled one Wednesday.
Obama devoted his Tuesday to Sept. 11 ceremonies in Washington on a day that was stripped of overt campaigning but clearly offered political messages from both candidates. On Wednesday afternoon, Obama was going to Las Vegas for one economy-themed rally at night before moving on to Colorado for an event there Thursday. Colorado and Nevada are among the key states that allow early voting before Nov. 6.s.
Romney was splitting Florida duty with his wife, Ann, who was holding her own rally in Largo; former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, was to campaign for Obama in Orlando.
The 11th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on America compelled Obama, Romney and their campaign teams to hold off on direct confrontations. Both sides yanked negative TV ads. And both Romney and Obama offered extensive praise and expressions of sympathy for those who died in the attacks and for their loved ones.
Yet Romney, in his address to a meeting of the National Guard, indirectly but clearly drew distinctions with Obama. After declaring that the day was not the proper moment to address differences with the president, Romney took issue with threatened cuts in defence spending and the handling of veterans' disability claims and called for more assertive international leadership.
"I wish I could say the world is less dangerous now," he said.
Obama, for his part, offered election-year reminders that "al-Qaida's leadership has been devastated and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again."
Said the president, "Our country is safer and our people are resilient."
Appealing for patriotism, former President Clinton urged Americans to honour those killed on 9-11 and in the wars that followed by being a "good citizen" and getting engaged in the election.
Clinton muted his direct criticism of Romney, but didn't hold back in drawing contrasts between Obama's proposals and those pushed by Republicans at a rally in southern Florida. In fine detail, he parsed the differences between the parties on health care, higher education and government spending.
Clinton, building upon his well-regarded speech at the Democratic Party's convention last week, argued that Obama was moving the country toward economic stability, even though sluggish growth and 8.1 per cent unemployment showed there was a long way to go.
Associated Press writer Ben Feller in Jacksonville, Florida, contributed to this report.