With time running out to change minds, win hearts -- and gain critical votes -- President Obama and Mitt Romney mapped out a four-day sprint to the finish that appeared to focus more on no stumbles rather than new scripts.
Romney on Friday described himself as the candidate of "real change," reiterating a slogan he's been hitting for days.
"Candidate Obama promised change, but he couldn't deliver it," Romney said in Wisconsin, before heading to Ohio, the veritable center of the presidential campaign universe.
The Obama campaign called the claim laughable. "We know what change looks like, and what the governor's offering ain't it," Obama said on the stump in Ohio Friday morning.
As both candidates reprise the "change" theme from 2008 in the final days of the race, their schedules offered clues to where they hope to tilt the electoral-vote count come Election Day. On the final weekend before the vote, the campaigns were planning a packed schedule of rallies through a host of battleground states.
Obama is planning a series of stops across Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado and Florida over the weekend. The president plans to hit Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin again on Monday.
Romney was planning a swing through New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and reportedly Pennsylvania over the weekend. He planned to close out the race with visits to Ohio and New Hampshire on Monday.
The play for Pennsylvania, which has voted Democrat in recent presidential races, is significant. Paul Ryan is also set to campaign there on Saturday. Winning Pennsylvania would allow Romney to potentially lose Ohio and still have a path to the 270 electoral votes it takes to win. But the polls still show the Keystone State leaning in Obama's favor, and Democrats have described the Pennsylvania appeal as a sign of desperation.
No matter how one carves up the map, the margin in the race is razor-thin and the campaigns -- and voters -- could be in for a long election night. The latest RealClearPolitics average of national polls has Obama up by less than 1 percentage point. Obama is leading in Ohio and Wisconsin, while Romney is leading in Virginia and Florida.
The candidates seemed to be settling into a rhythm with their closing appeal to voters, as the October jobs report released Friday morning gave the campaigns their final piece of economic evidence to weave into the stump speeches. That report was a mixed bag, showing the jobless rate ticking up to 7.9 percent -- and employers adding 171,000 jobs, while the number of unemployed increased by roughly the same amount.
Romney described the numbers as the picture of a "virtual standstill" on the economy.
"Unless we change course, we may well be looking at another recession," Romney said Friday.
Romney argued that he can bring "real change" by bringing in a pro-business administration.
"Every entrepreneur, every small-business person, every job creator will know that for the first time in four years, the government of the United States likes business and loves the jobs and higher wages businesses can bring," he said.
Romney said that the job market would "still be stagnant" at the outset, "but I won't waste any time complaining about my predecessor."
Obama, though, who spent the bulk of the past week dealing with the preparation for and response to monster storm Sandy, said Romney is just "repackaging" the policies of the George W. Bush administration and selling them as change.
"We have made real progress," Obama told Ohio voters.
The president said, as he has before, that Romney is offering an agenda that favors the biggest banks and the wealthiest Americans, and would serve to "rubber stamp" what he described as the "Tea Party agenda" in Congress.