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Top advisers try to redefine race as candidates prep to return to campaign trail

 

Mitt Romney and President Obama each attended church Sunday with their families, breaking from the campaign trail before the homestretch of the election cycle while their top election advisers attempted to redefine which issues they think should decide the race.

Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, called Medicare the “central question” for the election --  a surprising turn considering the federal program was largely a back-burner issue until less than two weeks ago when Wisconsin Rep. and House budget expert Paul Ryan was selected as the GOP vice presidential candidate.

Cutter made the statement on ABC’s “This Week,” which Romney adviser Kevin Madden responded to later by saying the president appears more interested in “talking to disc jockeys in New Mexico about what his favorite chili is.”

Republican adviser Ed Gillespie said on "Fox News Sunday" the overall Romney plan, which includes a higher eligibility age for Medicare, will eventually slow the program's growth.

He also dismissed a question about a Congressional Budget Office report that stated Medicare beneficiaries will pay more under the Romney plan that includes the option to use private health insurers.

"We reject that in our analysis," he said.

The GOP presidential candidate’s plan would trim benefits for wealthier people and raise the eligibility age. However, the proposed changes would not affect Americans now 55 or older.

Gillespie also disputed Obama's argument that Romney's call for deeper tax cuts will unfairly benefit the wealthy and worsen the deficit.

Romney's plan, Gillespie said, "would allow for households with incomes less than $200,000 to not pay on capital gains and dividends, because we believe that would help foster job creation."

The final 11 weeks of the campaign include both national conventions -- starting next week with the Republican’s in Tampa, Fla., followed by the Democrats’ in Charlotte, N.C., from Sept. 3 to 6.

Also on Sunday, Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell clashed over Medicare and taxes.

O'Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Romney is avoiding taxes by using offshore accounts. McDonnell, who heads the Republican Governors Association, said O'Malley was flat wrong, calling the comments reckless and slanderous.

Obama and Romney return to campaigning and fundraising this week.

The president plans to campaign Tuesday in Ohio, then Wednesday in Nevada and New York.

Romney and Ryan are scheduled to campaign Monday in Manchester, N.H., before Romney flies to New Orleans for a fundraiser.

On Sunday, the president, first lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters attended St. John’s Episcopal Church, a short walk from the White House.

The Romneys attended Wolfeboro Mormon Church in New Hampshire, a brief  car ride from the family’s summer home.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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