THE RACE: Obama, Romney busy laying groundwork

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By TOM RAUM, Associated Press

Both presidential candidates are tending to essentials at this stage in their campaigns.

President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are crisscrossing the country fundraising and trying to more sharply — and negatively — define each other. With five months to go to the election, they're also courting voting blocs they hope to win over and rallying their political supporters.

Ahead are nearly three months of summer doldrums to navigate before the party conventions in late August and early September. After that, there won't be much time to search for money, paint a negative image of opponents or woo the base. It will be nonstop retail politics and three presidential debates.

Obama was discussing college affordability Thursday at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in support of legislation to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling next month. It's an issue that resonates with young voters, a group that supported Obama in 2008 and is trying to win again.

The night before, he spoke at a celebrity-filled Los Angeles fundraiser of gay and lesbian supporters recently energized by his support for gay marriage.

Romney was raising money and addressing supporters in St. Louis, a day after he reached out in Texas to Hispanics, a growing group of voters where he now lags.

And challenging Obama's lead with women voters, Romney has been trying to turn the tables on Democratic charges of a GOP "war on women" by claiming the administration's handling of the economy is the real top issue impacting women.

Recent polls show Romney closing the gap, although Obama still leads overall with women voters.

Romney is also gaining fundraising ground. His campaign said Thursday that together with the GOP it raised nearly $77 million in May vs. $60 million for Obama and the Democratic party.

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