One last push: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney begin frantic tour of swing states in search of votes

Ohio remains the critical battleground as campaign blitz reaches its climax

With only hours left for campaigning, both candidates will this morning launch a final, frantic push for votes in the nine states critical to the outcome of the US presidential election next Tuesday.

There will be no rest for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney as their travelling circuses whisk them from swing state to swing state as they seek not just to net the few waverers still out there – they may account now for no more than about 7 per cent of the available pool of voters, pollsters say – and to persuade those already with them to turn out.

Each campaign will be grasping for anything that might help turn the public mood to their advantage. That will include further sparring over yesterday's monthly unemployment figures that led to a tiny rise to 7.9 per cent but also saw far more new jobs being created than expected, thus giving ammunition to both camps.

"This is such a tight race. Everything matters," Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, said last night. "Anything that pushes one or two people out there, that benefits either candidate."

Before Tuesday none of the key states will be spared a final blitz of television advertising, not just of the campaigns themselves but those of the independent Super PACs (political action committees) backing each of them. And each of those, spread over three time zones, can also expect final, pleading visits by both of the contenders.

For Mr Obama that means riding Air Force One to Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia today, before clocking up several thousand more miles tomorrow spanning New Hampshire, Florida and Colorado. Mr Romney will be vying for the top spot of tonight's nightly news bulletins with a giant rally near Cincinnati, Ohio, where he will be accompanied not just by his running mate, Paul Ryan, but more than 100 campaign supporters including Condoleezza Rice, Rudy Giuliani and Senator Marco Rubio.

The Romney campaign scheduled a rally tonight in Philadelphia, apparently encouraged enough by tightening polls in Pennsylvania to see a possible path to victory in a state that would normally be considered safe Obama territory. The gambit drew scorn from the other side.

"It means the Romney-Ryan campaign is desperate to try to figure out how to win this race outside of the states that they've been contesting it in for 15 months," Robert Gibbs, a top Obama strategist and former White House spokesman, said. "John McCain spent the last weekend in 2008 in Pennsylvania in a desperate attempt to do this as well."

Top advisers in both camps express iron-clad certainty that their candidate is on the path to victory on Tuesday night. Democrat voters are palpably nervous, but the effect of three-day hiatus that Mother Nature delivered to President Obama as he tended to the storm victims in the northeast this week as well as the relatively positive jobs numbers has buoyed their mood a notch.

Helping also has been the praise of his handling of the storm aftermath from two Republican governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Robert McDonnell of Virginia. Panic in the president's ranks was being staved off yesterday by continuing evidence that Mr Obama is still holding on – just – in key swing states, notably Ohio, and that in the betting market therefore he is doing well. For example, Intrade yesterday saw only a 32.5 per cent chance of Romney winning on Tuesday, down 4.4 per cent from Thursday's close.

The fiercest of the warfare is concentrated in Ohio, a state that is considered must-win by both sides. Mr Obama and his representatives lambasted Mr Romney as dishonest for broadcasting a television spot there claiming that production of the Jeep was being shipped to China – a claim that Chrysler, the maker of the model, has itself denied – and as a fake for his expressions of support for Hurricane Sandy victims.

"Let me tell you something about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, told Obama supporters. "They don't even know how to fake compassion."

Key battlegrounds: States that will decide the election

Florida

America's largest battleground state is a must-win for Romney, but it is risky for both camps. A large Hispanic population should favour the Democrats, but Florida suffered disproportionately in the foreclosure crisis.

Wisconsin

Traditionally a Democrat bastion, there is now everything to play for in Wisconsin – home to Paul Ryan, the No 2 on the Republican ticket. Among the battleground states, none are more fickle than this one.

Virginia

The further down Virginia you travel the more Republican voters tend to become. But the state is now a key toss-up thanks to population growth in the suburbs of Washington DC where conservatism is less prevalent.

Ohio

As polls this week showed Obama slightly widening his lead over Romney in this critical state, talk turned to whether Romney ought to focus his attentions elsewhere. Yes, there are ways to the critical 270 electoral votes for Romney that don't include the Buckeye State, but that is a far more dangerous game.

Iowa

The Hawkeye State may only hold six electoral votes, but in this nail-biter of a race, every little really does count. In Iowa, it is the religious vote that Obama and Romney will be hoping to swing.

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