WASHINGTON — President Obama and Mitt Romney on Saturday turned their attention to preparing for the next big moment on the political calendar: a debate Tuesday night in New York.
Obama held no events in public, and instead traveled to a resort in Williamsburg, Va., where he will spend three days trying to ensure that his next debate performance is better than his previous one, which was widely panned and has triggered a swift rise in the polls for his Republican rival.
Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, was with Obama, playing Romney in the mock debates.
Romney spent Saturday morning with his top advisers at an Embassy Suites hotel in Columbus, Ohio, undergoing debate preparations for nearly four hours.
Romney also held rallies on Saturday in Ohio, where he criticized Obama for not being more aggressive with China’s trade policies and for not doing more to improve the economy.
“In times like this, what is he talking about? Saving Big Bird,” Romney said in Portsmouth, Ohio. “When I’m president I’m going to help save the American family and get good jobs for every American.”
“His campaign is about smaller and smaller things,” Romney added. “And our campaign is about bigger and bigger crowds fighting for a brighter future.”
Obama’s campaign immediately pushed back.
“Mitt Romney may think that improving economic security for the middle class, protecting a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, and strengthening Medicare are ‘small things,’ but that’s what President Obama is fighting for,” Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement. “You see, Mitt Romney thinks these are ‘small things’ because he just doesn’t get it.”
Most political analysts still give Obama an edge in winning the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. Real Clear Politics currently projects Obama winning 201 votes, with 181 for Romney, giving the incumbent president more pathways to the 270 needed to win.
But over the past week, the nonpartisan website has moved five states that had been leaning toward Obama into the toss-up category. If Romney is able to continue with the momentum he seems to have caught since the first debate 10 days ago, he may be able to expand the political map.
The biggest hurdle for Romney is Ohio, where he spent most of the past five days trying to eliminate a deficit in the polls. Without winning Ohio’s 18 electoral votes, Romney would have to carry almost all of the other battleground states, most of which are currently neck-and-neck.
While Obama spent the day on debate preparations, he used his weekly radio address to talk about the auto industry, which is vital to Ohio.
‘‘We refused to throw in the towel and do nothing. We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt,’’ Obama said in the address. ‘‘GM is back. Ford and Chrysler are growing again. Together, our auto industry has created nearly a quarter of a million new jobs right here in America.’’
Romney had opposed using federal money to help the auto industry, writing an opinion piece in The New York Times, which was headlined “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” that called for a managed bankruptcy rather than a federal bailout. That position has hamstrung Romney in Ohio, as well as his native Michigan.
Obama released a new television ad, called “Challenges,” that is narrated by actor Morgan Freeman.
“Every president inherits challenges,” Freeman says as images flash across the screen of car manufacturing lines, homes being built, and firefighters cheering Osama bin Laden’s death. “Few have faced so many. Four years later, our enemies have been brought to justice . . . assembly lines are humming again.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.