By KEN THOMAS and NANCY BENAC, Associated Press
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Their debates now history, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday open a two-week sprint to Election Day powered by adrenaline, a boatload of campaign cash and a determination to reach Nov. 6 with no would-have, should-have regrets in their neck-and-neck fight to the finish.
From here, the candidates will vastly accelerate their travel, ad spending and grass-roots mobilizing in a race that's likely to cost upward of $2 billion by the time it all ends.
Obama's campaign released a 20-page booklet called the "Blueprint for America's Future" on Tuesday to promote a second term agenda, responding to Republican criticism that the president has not clearly articulated a plan for the next four years.
The campaign was printing 3.5 million copies of the plan, which were being distributed at campaign events and field offices across the country, aiming to outline proposals Obama has discussed to improve education, boost manufacturing jobs, enhance U.S.-made energy, reduce the federal deficit and raise taxes on the wealthy.
The plan was part of a closing argument to voters pitched in a new 60-second television advertisement released following the final debate. In the ad, Obama speaks directly to the camera about his plans for a second term and touts economic gains.
"We're not there yet," Obama says in the ad, "but we've made real progress and the last thing we should do is turn back now." The ad will air in the nine states whose electoral votes are still considered up for grabs — New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado.
No surprise then, that Obama campaigns Tuesday in Florida and Ohio while Romney heads West to Nevada and Colorado.
Asked Tuesday whether the race comes down to Ohio, Virginia and Florida as some observers have suggested, Vice President Joe Biden described the three as "critically important." He predicted victory in Ohio and Florida — without mentioning Virginia.
"Look, this is going to be close," Biden said in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show. "We always knew at the end of the day this was going to be a close race, no matter who the Republicans nominated."
Neither candidate scored a knockout punch in their third and last debate Monday, as both men reined in the confrontational sniping that had marked their last testy encounter. The topic was foreign policy, and Romney went in to the debate with a key piece of advice from his aides: talk about peace in an appeal to independent voters, particularly women, who are weary of more than a decade of war. "I want to see peace," Romney said in his closing argument.
For guidance during debate preparation, aides looked to the first debate between Ronald Reagan and then-President Jimmy Carter. "Our first priority must be world peace, and that use of force is always and only a last resort, when everything else has failed," Reagan said when asked how he differed from Carter on how America should exercise its military power.
Aides also encouraged Romney to try not to take the bait they were sure Obama would offer in the form of sharp attacks or distortions of Romney's record. They said they worried about Romney's tendency to veer off track when attacked — and worried he would be prone to making a mistake if he did so in an area like foreign policy, where he is farther out of his comfort zone. Unlike previous debates, Romney did allow some of Obama's criticism to go unanswered.