Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama dueled over jobs, the economy and the nation's future Friday as the taut presidential campaign headed into a final, frantic weekend.
Speaking to thousands of supporters gathered at State Fair Park, Romney portrayed Obama as a president who hasn't lived up to his promises and said, "The question of this election comes down to this: Do you want more of the same or do you want real change?"
At three campaign stops in the battleground state of Ohio, Obama touted his record on helping Chrysler and GM recover from economic peril. He also criticized Romney's campaign for running an advertisement that implied Chrysler was poised to ship jobs to China to build Jeeps.
Obama told an audience in Hilliard, "I understand that Gov. Romney has had a tough time here in Ohio because he was against saving the auto industry. And it's hard to run away from that position when you're on videotape saying the words, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt.' "
The campaigning was set against the backdrop of Friday's jobs report, the last before the election. The October report showed the nation gained 171,000 jobs but the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9%.
"He said he was going to lower the unemployment rate down to 5.2%," Romney said. "Right now, today we learned that it is actually 7.9% and that's 9 million jobs short of what he promised. Unemployment is higher today than when Barack Obama took office."
Obama countered that the nation was on the right economic course.
"In 2008, we were in the middle of two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Obama said. "And today, our businesses have created nearly 5.5 million new jobs; and this morning, we learned that companies hired more workers in October than at any time in the last eight months."
Wisconsin will play a central role as the campaign reaches a close and the candidates try to build winning coalitions to reach the 270-electoral vote mark.
Obama, who opened the final leg of his campaign Thursday in Ashwaubenon, will appear with pop singer Katy Perry on Saturday afternoon at a rally at the Delta Center in Milwaukee. On Monday morning, he will be at an outdoor rally with rock star Bruce Springsteen in downtown Madison.
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the congressman from Janesville, will return to the state Monday night, with a rally at Sterling Aviation at Mitchell International Airport.
"We want to make sure we lock it in and it's definitely in our column," Obama surrogate Robert Gibbs said of Wisconsin on CBS.
Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, whipped up the Republican faithful in West Allis when he declared: "Are you guys ready to hire Mitt Romney, fire Barack Obama and save America? Are you ready to win?"
Inside the Products Pavilion at State Fair Park, the crowd listened to a who's-who of state Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, congressmen Reid Ribble and Tom Petri and former Gov. Tommy Thompson. They also roared when Green Bay Packers all-time great Bart Starr endorsed Romney, who delivered what was billed as a closing argument in a speech titled "Real Change From Day One."
"What a great state, what a great welcome. This state is going to help me become the next president of the United States," Romney said, adding: "We're going to win on Tuesday night."
Romney sought to strike many notes in the speech, which appeared aimed at the political center.
"The closing hours of a campaign have a dynamic of their own," Romney said. "Many voters have known for some time who they will vote for. Others are just now putting aside the demands of daily life and considering how their vote will affect their life, the lives of their children and the course of the country we love."
Asking the crowd to "look beyond the speeches and attacks and the ads," Romney said, "Words are cheap. A record is real and earned with effort. Real change is not measured in words. It is measured in achievements."
He said Obama promised to be a post-partisan president but became an attacking president. Romney criticized the president's record on jobs, the debt and energy.
"He never led before. He never worked across the aisle before," Romney said.
"The same course we have been on will not lead to a better destination. The same path we're on means $20 trillion in debt in four years, means staggering unemployment."
Romney sought to contrast his record of building a business, leading the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and serving as governor of Massachusetts, with Obama's tenure.
"Candidate Obama promised change but couldn't deliver it. I promise change and I have a record of achieving it," he said.
He added, "If you're tired of being tired, I ask you to vote for real change."
He said even though the economy will still be stagnant when he's elected, he won't spend time "blaming my predecessor," a subtle dig at Obama pinning blame on his predecessor, former President George W. Bush.
Romney vowed that if elected, "I will work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. I will meet with them regularly."
"I won't just represent one party, I will represent one nation," Romney said.
He reflected on the stakes of the race, telling the audience: "We are four days away from a fresh start. Four days away from the first day of a new beginning. My conviction that better days are ahead is not based on promises and hollow rhetoric but solid plans and proven results."
Romney added, "If there is anyone worried the last four years are the best we can do, if there is anyone who fears that the American dream is fading, if there is anyone who wonders whether better jobs and better paychecks are things of the past, I have a clear and unequivocal message: With the right leadership America will come roaring back."
He also played to the strength he showed in the debates, particularly the first one, when he told the crowd: "You saw the differences when President Obama and I were side-by-side in our debates. He says it has to be this way. I say it can't be this way. He's offering excuses, I've got a plan. He's hoping we'll settle. I can't wait for us to get started."
Vice President Joe Biden also visited Wisconsin on Friday, with stops at middle schools in Superior and Beloit.
Clearly energized by an audience that often gave shouts of encouragement and largely remained on its feet the entire 33-minute speech, Biden laughed and raised his voice as he spoke at Aldrich Middle School in Beloit, about 15 miles from Ryan's hometown of Janesville.
Wearing a dark blazer and blue shirt, Biden immediately spoke about superstorm Sandy, which devastated his home state of Delaware and much of the northeast, saying that it had brought together Republicans and Democrats in a way that the nation used to see more often.
"Mom used to have an expression, Joey out of everything bad something good will come. . . . Although there are still significant problems, there are gigantic opportunities for this country," Biden said.
Speaking to voters in an economically struggling region of Wisconsin, Biden talked about the progress that had been made on the economy.
"We're going to reward companies that bring jobs home, not those who go abroad," he said.
Biden said Republican policies were focused on providing lower taxes to the very wealthiest families in America.
"Folks, look, we've seen this movie before and it ended in the Great Recession of 2008, and I'm absolutely convinced the American people do not want to go back!" Biden said.
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