By KEN THOMAS and MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is pitching a broad economic argument to voters ahead of next week's debate with Republican opponent Mitt Romney, buying TV time in seven battleground states to promote what he calls a "new economic patriotism."
In a two-minute ad, Obama looks into the camera as he promotes an economic plan he says will create 1 million manufacturing jobs, cut oil imports and hire thousands of new teachers.
The ad set to air in New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado comes as Obama and Republican Mitt Romney shadow each other while looking for votes in a closely contested race. On Thursday, the two candidates are scheduled to campaign in the same state for the third straight day, this time in Virginia, a critical battleground in the Nov. 6 election.
Romney is to appear in suburban Washington for a veterans event, while Obama speaks to a farm bureau in Virginia Beach.
The simultaneous visits follow an all-day duel Wednesday in Ohio, where Romney declared he can do more than Obama to improve the lives of average people. Obama scoffed that a challenger who calls half the nation "victims" was unlikely to be of much help.
Meanwhile, new Republican-leaning independent groups have entered the presidential advertising fray as polling suggests Romney's campaign may be losing ground against Obama in key states such as Ohio and Florida.
The commercials, aimed at voters who supported Obama in 2008 but are now undecided, join those from the campaigns and outside groups swamping a narrow and possibly shrinking map of competitive states in the fast-moving presidential contest. Americans for Job Security launched an $8.7 million ad buy in six battleground states, while the Ending Spending Action Fund, a new conservative group bankrolled by billionaire Joe Ricketts, was set to debut a $10 million, four-state ad campaign on Thursday.
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Polls show Obama widening his lead in several key states amid backlash from a leaked video in which Romney disparages the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income tax as government-dependent Obama supporters who see themselves as victims and won't take responsibility for their own lives.
Obama's campaign was reveling in the latest public polling but trying to crush any sense of overconfidence. "If we need to pass out horse blinders to all of our staff, we will do that," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
Romney went after working-class voters at three stops in Ohio, while Obama rallied college crowds at Bowling Green and Kent State. Early voting in Ohio begins next week.
"If President Obama were to be re-elected, what you'd see is four more years like the last four years, and we can't afford another four more years like the last four years," Romney told a boisterous crowd in Toledo at the day's final stop.
Romney said the country had lost more than half a million manufacturing jobs in the past four years. "This is not the path we want for America," he said.
Romney's campaign has been reeling from his caught-on-video comments at a Florida fundraiser last May. New opinion polls, conducted after the video became public last week, show Obama opening up apparent leads over Romney in battleground states, including Ohio and Virginia.
Romney told ABC News that the race was in a statistical tie in some national polls.
"I'm very pleased with some polls, less so with other polls, but frankly at this early stage, polls go up, polls go down," he said.
Obama was not about to let the video comments fade away. He said Wednesday that "America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together, as one nation, as one people."
He added, "You can't make it happen if you write off half the nation before you take office."
Obama supporters are also working to keep Romney's "47 percent" comments alive. Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action and a political group tied to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees released a radio ad in Ohio and Virginia airing the remarks. The ad, part of a $1.25 million radio buy, tells listeners Romney's "just not looking out for us."