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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Obama Weighs In on Mourdock Rape Comments

President Obama waded into the Richard Mourdock rape controversy on Wednesday, telling Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” on NBC that “rape is rape.”

Responding to Mr. Leno's question on the remarks by Mr. Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate from Indiana who said Tuesday that a life conceived by rape was something “God intended to happen,” Mr. Obama said: “These various distinctions about rape don't make too much sense to me, don't make any sense to me.” He added that the remarks illustrate why it should not be left to only men to make decisions on women's issues.

Prompted by Mr. Leno, the president also went after Donald Trump, who said he would contribute $5 million to the president's favorite charity if Mr. Obama released his college and passport records.

Mr. Obama told Mr. Leno that the beef dates back to when he and Mr. Trump were growing up Kenya.

“We had constant run-ins on the soccer field,” Mr. Obama said. “He wasn' t very good and resented it. When we finally moved to America I thought it would be over.”

Responding to questions submitted by the audience, Mr. Obama said that trick-or-treaters could expect to get candy if they knocked on the White House door. He added that trick-or-treaters from Ohio could expect extra-large Hershey bars.

Michelle Obama Debuts in Spanish-Language Ad

In yet another sign of how important the Hispanic vote is to the Obama campaign, Michelle Obama's first ad is aimed at Latino communities in swing states.

In the 30-second spot, Cristina Saralegui, a Cuban-American talk show host, asks the first lady, in Spanish, why it is important for Latinos to vote this year.

Subtitles offer a translation of Mrs. Obama's response as she ticks off the president's goal of immigration reform, keeping the health care law and expanding education access.

The ad is running on both television and radio in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

President Obama is relying on Hispanic voters not only to win in those swing states, but also to provide a mandate for his agenda. He told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday that he would pass comprehensive immigration reform.

“Should I win a second term,” Mr. Obama said, “a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”

Romney Plans Economic Speech in Iowa

Mitt Romney spoke to supporters at a campaign rally on Wednesday in Las Vegas.Stephen Crowley/The New York Times Mitt Romney spoke to supporters at a campaign rally on Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Mitt Romney plans to deliver a closing speech framing the economic choice facing voters during a campaign visit to Ames, Iowa, on Friday, a top adviser to Mr. Romney's presidential campaign said on Wednesday.

The speech will come just over a week before Election Day and as voters across Iowa and several other swing states are voting early. Aides said Mr. Romney would seek to reinforce in voters the economic differences between the two presidential candidates.

Aides declined to provide details about what Mr. Romney would say in the speech. The last major address Mr. Romney delivered was focused on foreign policy, and came earlier this month at the Virginia Military Institute.

Mr. Romney had considered giving an economic speech on Thursday in Cincinnati, according to some top advisers earlier in the week. It was not immediately clear why the campaign decided on delivering the address in Iowa instead.

Both states - Ohio and Iowa - are seen as critical to Mr. Romney's efforts to win the White House. Public polls have consistently shown Mr. Obama to be leading in both, though by narrow margins. Aides in each campaign say the states are very close.

The economy is also doing better in the two states than the nation over all. The unemployment rate in Iowa is 5.2 percent, well below the national rate of 7.8 percent. The unemployment rate in Ohio is 7 percent.

Mr. Romney has made the economy the cornerstone of his bid to unseat President Obama, arguing that the cur rent administration has done too little to help the country recover from the economic collapse at the end of 2008.

His campaign is pressing that issue in television ads across the battleground states. But with no more debates attracting millions of viewers, the candidates are eager to find ways to help their closing messages break through the clutter of the final weeks.

The campaign said on Wednesday that Mr. Romney planned a noon rally in Ames at Kinzler Construction Services.

Romney Testimony in Divorce Case Subject of Court Fight

Gloria Allred, the media-savvy lawyer known for representing beleaguered women, showed up at a Canton, Mass., courthouse on Wednesday with booklets full of testimony by Mitt Romney in a 1991 divorce case.

That year, Mr. Romney testified in the contentious divorce proceedings of Tom Stemberg, the Staples founder and campaign surrogate, and Ms. Allred's client, Maureen Sullivan Stemberg. A judge is set to decide on Thursday morning whether to unseal the records, as requested by The Boston Globe.

With clients who include Tiger Woods's alleged mistresses and Nicole Brown Simpson's family, Ms. Allred often appears more in news outlets like TMZ than TNR.

But this isn't the first time she has played a role in the 2012 presidential race. Last year, she represented Sharon Bialek, the first woman to publicly accuse Herman Cain of sexual harassment, derailing his bid for the Republican nomination.

The Stembergs' divorce battle, which began in 1987 and continu ed for more than a decade, featured accusations of late-night calls to the police, accusations of child mistreatment (and subsequent defamation suits). But Mr. Romney's testimony carries no such drama, according to his lawyer.

“This is a decades-old divorce case in which Mitt Romney provided testimony as to the value of a company,” the lawyer, Robert Jones, said. “He has no objection to letting the public see that testimony.”

Bain Capital was an early investor in Staples when Mr. Romney was at the helm, and the company made its first public offering in 1989. Ms. Stemberg later accused Mr. Stemberg of withholding knowledge of these plans, thus reducing her settlement, but a probate judge rejected her suit in 1994.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

In Democratic Stronghold, Ryan Puts Focus on Poverty

Representative Paul D. Ryan delivered a speech focused on poverty on Thursday in Cleveland.Eric Thayer for The New York Times Representative Paul D. Ryan delivered a speech focused on poverty on Thursday in Cleveland.

Extending the Republican ticket's lean toward the middle, Representative Paul D. Ryan expressed compassion for Americans in poverty and laid out a vision for fixing the broken engine of upward mobility.

Poverty has been all but absent from the speeches of Mr. Ryan and Mitt Romney, except when they accuse President Obama of presiding over years of increased reliance on food stamps and the highest poverty rate in a generation.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Ryan struck a notably empathetic tone toward the poor, even if he did n ot offer new antipoverty proposals.

“Americans are a compassionate people, and there's a consensus in this country about our fundamental obligations to society's most vulnerable,” Mr. Ryan said.

He spoke in Cleveland, in Cuyahoga County, where Mr. Obama won his largest margin of any Ohio county in 2008. The Republican ticket's furious effort to wrest the state from Mr. Obama has brought Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney not only into traditional Republican strongholds, but to Democratic bastions as well, in hope of prying away voters disappointed by the president.

Mr. Ryan cited grim numbers - 46 million people living below the poverty line, a high school dropout rate of 50 percent in major cities.

“In this war on poverty, poverty is winning,” he said. “So what is the alternative approach that Mitt Romney and I are offering?”

He made the traditional conservative case that government antipoverty programs create a â €œculture of dependency,” implying that they be significantly scaled back. He argued that the best route out of poverty lies in an unfettered free-enterprise economy that robustly creates jobs.

“We need a real recovery,” Mr. Ryan said. “Mitt Romney is uniquely qualified and ready to deliver this recovery â€" because he understands how an economy works and what makes it grow.”

Mr. Ryan agreed that government has a role to provide a “safety net.” But he called for reforming Medicaid and the food stamp program to remove federal mandates and let states manage the antipoverty programs.

In a response, the Obama campaign cited an analysis of the House budget Mr. Ryan wrote, by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which said it would “impose extraordinary cuts in programs that serve as a lifeline for our nation's poorest and most vulnerable citizens.”

“The American people understand that Mitt Romney would take us back, and no change in rhetoric in the campaign's final weeks can change that,” Danny Kanner, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said in a statement.

Sensing Saturation, Ohio House Candidate Cancels Advertising Buy

Sensing that the target audience has reached its limits, Representative Jim Renacci of Ohio has canceled $850,000 in advertisement reservations for the final days of his campaign for re-election, going dark on network television as one of the most expensive House races draws to a close.

The decision marks perhaps the most dramatic response to the relentless advertising wars in the first presidential campaign since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision opened the financing floodgates. As of Tuesday, the Cleveland media market has been pummeled with 73,178 political ads this year, according to Kantar Media, which tracks such ads. Mr. Renacci said advertising in that onslaught would be a waste of time and money, although he will maintain a small amount of commercials on cable channels.

“Quite frankly, as this election cycle moved forward, we noticed Ohio voters were really using their televisions for target practice,” he said in an interview. “And who can blame them?”

Democrats portrayed the move as an enormous political mistake in a campaign against another incumbent, the Democratic Representative Betty Sutton, in a redrawn district that is largely new to both of them. A senior aide to the Sutton campaign said Mr. Renacci was assuming every mind was already made up, even though in a race this close, only a few undecided voters could make a difference.

“Tom Ganley, Betty's opponent two years ago, made the very same argument when he pulled down his ads. He went on to lose by 10 points,” said Steve Fought, a Sutton campaign spokesman.

But Mr. Renacci said he had been thinking of doing this all along. The campaign had reserved air time for the final two weeks but had gone up early in the summer and spent most of its advertising dollars in August, when the airwaves were not so saturated. He said he did not actually pull any ads, but he did cancel reserved slots.

T he Sutton aide said Mr. Renacci's advertising buyer informed networks of the decision Monday night.

“People are not paying attention. They are just turning it off,” Mr. Renacci said, relating his own experience of watching nine consecutive negative attack ads aired while he was watching a recent television show.

The Cleveland area is second only to Las Vegas in the number of political ads aired this year. Both cities are dealing with a close presidential contest, a hard-fought Senate campaign, close House races and an influx of advertising from outside groups.

Mr. Renacci said he most often hears the words “overwhelming” and “nauseating” from voters. He said it was Ms. Sutton who had miscalculated: She has run a more traditional campaign, husbanding her resources for a final ad blitz when voters in suburban Cleveland are either keeping the television off or taping their shows and fast-forwarding through the ads.

Follo w Jonathan Weisman on Twitter at @jonathanweisman.

The Caucus Click: Going Separate Ways

Mitt Romney and Representative Paul D. Ryan spoke on the tarmac in Denver before leaving on separate campaign planes on Wednesday morning. Mr. Ryan left for Ohio, and Mr. Romney's next stop was in Nevada.Stephen Crowley/The New York Times Mitt Romney and Representative Paul D. Ryan spoke on the tarmac in Denver before leaving on separate campaign planes on Wednesday morning. Mr. Ryan left for Ohio, and Mr. Romney's next stop was in Nevada.

Obama Reminds Supporters About the 2000 Election

President Obama and his advisers are fond of reminding people just how close this election will be. Now they are putting those words into a new ad that reminds voters how the country could have taken a much different turn in 2000 had more of Al Gore's supporters turned up at the polls.

The ad is called “537,” a reference to the number of votes that separated George W. Bush from Mr. Gore in Florida. Or, as the ad puts it in rather dramatic terms, 537 was “the difference between what was and what could have been.”

It continues, “So this year if you're thinking that your vote doesn't count, that it won't matter, well back then there were probably at least 537 people who felt the same way. Make your voice heard. Vote.”

“Vote” has become a refrain in Mr. Obama's stump speeches lately. When he mentions his opponents by name, eliciting the predictable boos from the crowd, he implores them: “Don't boo. Vote.”

The ad also underscores a ma jor hurdle for Democrats to overcome as they battle Mitt Romney. Enthusiasm among their base is not nearly as high as it was four years ago. And the Obama campaign, mindful that low turnout could cost it the election, has been making extensive efforts to get its voters to the polls - both on Election Day and through early voting.

With its heavy, almost defensive tone, the ad never mentions or shows a photograph of Mr. Gore. Instead, the ad seems intended to motivate the Democratic Party's base using a favorite boogeyman: Mr. Bush.

Follow Jeremy W. Peters on Twitter at @ jwpetersNYT .

Lawmakers Rated on Food and Farm Policy Votes

WASHINGTON - Members of Congress are used to having their votes graded. Dozens of interest groups, from the National Rifle Association to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, keep score, grading lawmakers on how they vote on issues ranging from gun control to legislation that would repeal laws that make marijuana use illegal.

On Wednesday, a coalition of food policy, environmental and antihunger groups, called Food Policy Action, unveiled its own scorecard to grade Congress on how it votes on issues related to food and farm policy. The coalition includes organizations like the National Black Farmers Association and the international antihunger charity Oxfam.

The group's National Food Policy scorecard grades lawmakers based on 32 votes taken during the current Congress on food safety, hunger, farm subsidies, food labeling, organic food and programs to encourage consumption of locally grown food. Each vote is weighed equally, and the score card assigns members grades on a scale of 0 to 100.

The group said the purpose of the scorecard was to elevate food issues in Congress and provide an easily understood system for the public to compare lawmakers on those issues.

“What we have done in a very straightforward, objective way is to let people know how their member of Congress is doing on all the issues about food they keep hearing about - pink slime, farm subsidies or cuts to food stamps,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research organization, and a board member of the Food Policy Action.

Democrats tended to score higher than Republicans, with several members getting a perfect score. Forty-nine Democrats received a score of 100. Three lawmakers, all Republicans, received a zero grade, including Representative Robert L. Turner of New York. To receive a zero lawmakers would have voted for farm subsidies, opposed li mits to crop insurance programs and voted to cut food stamp benefits, among other things.

But the group pointed out that some Republicans like Senator Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts scored better than many Democrats, including Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Mr. Brown received a score of 78, while Ms. Stabenow, who is chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, received a grade of 61.

Other Agriculture Committee members who help form the nation's food and agriculture policy received low grades. Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, received a grade of 17. On the House side, Representative Frank D. Lucas, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, received a 36. Collin C. Peterson, Democrat of Minnesota, a ranking member on the committee, received a 57.

While some lawmakers received low grades, they were praised by members of Food Policy Action for their vote s to curb farm subsidies, an issue that the coalition said had a significant effect on food policy and its rating system.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, who received a grade of 11, was given credit for his efforts to tie crop insurance payments to environmental conservation. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, was given credit for his efforts to limit farm subsidies.

Ultimately, members of the food policy coalition said they hoped the scorecard would make Republicans and Democrats more accountable when it comes to food policy. They said they planned to publicize the ratings, which will be continuing, with editorial boards and other groups.

“This is not partisan at all,” said Tom Colicchio, a celebrity chef on the television program “Top Chef” and a board member of the coalition. “This is about the values we have about where our food comes from and the values that we have that people not go hungry. This is about how our rep resentatives vote on those values.”

Keeping Cash on Hand, Just in Case

Earlier this year, I joked in a post that interest rates were so low on savings accounts that it might make sense to store cash under your mattress - or at least somewhere safe in your home.

But the recent “denial of service” attacks on big banks in the United States that temporarily blocked some customers from using their online accounts got us at Bucks wondering again: Is having some cash on hand, in case of an extended outage, a good idea? And how much is reasonable?

The attacks, which struck a half-dozen large banks, including Bank of America and Chase, last month and, more recently, additional banks like Capital One, affected the banks' online accounts only. The banks' mobile banking applications and telephone banking systems, as well as their automatic-teller machines, weren't affected. So customers could still get cash from the A.T.M.'s.

Mark Pipitone, a spokesman for Bank of America, had this to say in an e-mail: â €œIt's important to point out that most of our customers experienced no difficulties on 9/18. Our other channels, including mobile banking, banking centers and A.T.M.'s, were available and unaffected.”

Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser at the electronic security firm Sophos, said the A.T.M. networks that are run by the major banks are less vulnerable to cyberattackers because they are largely private systems that aren't exposed to the Internet. “Is it likely that they could impact those A.T.M. networks? Largely, no,” he said.

Some private-label A.T.M.'s, like those in gas stations or convenient stores, might, in theory, be subject to similar, if less high-tech, “denial of service” attacks because they sometimes use telephone lines to reach their networks. So an organized attack could conceivably work by tying up phone lines, just as Internet attacks tie up Web sites by flooding them with traffic and slowing them so much that regular customers can't use them.

So what about hiding some cash at home? I personally don't do it, even though there are now clever gadgets, like fake electrical outlets, that help make hiding places less obvious. I can barely remember to keep cash in my wallet for everyday purchases; never mind hoarding piles of it for some unlikely catastrophe.

But Mr. Wisniewski said that especially since the attacks of 9/11, he is a proponent of having cash on hand, and he often travels with as much as $1,000 in his wallet. He doesn't like to say where he keeps it at his house, for obvious reasons, but he says he wants to have enough available to cover costs like food and transportation for a week or two, if necessary. (He's also a diabetic, so he likes to have two months of his medication on hand, too.) How much you feel safe keeping around is up to you, he said. “It all depends on your personal level of paranoia.”

One caveat about keeping it at home, he said, is that “the better you are at hiding it, the more likely you are to forget where it is.”

The major banks we contacted dodged the cash-on-hand question. They generally would prefer, after all, that you keep your cash with them.

Wells Fargo and Chase referred me to tips from the Financial Services Roundtable, which largely focused on advice like using antivirus software on your computer and strong online passwords.

Citibank didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Have the recent denial-of-service attacks caused you to change your banking habits? How so?

What Obama Said About Immigration in His Off-the-Record Interview

Curious about what President Obama might say when he believes he is off the record and can therefore afford to be “very blunt?”

In the case of the interview he gave this week to The Des Moines Register, the president used his perceived anonymity to explain why he thinks the political calculus will make it possible for him to overhaul the nation's immigration laws next year.

“The second thing I'm confident we'll get done next year is immigration reform,” Mr. Obama said in an interview he gave as he sought the newspaper's endorsement. “And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon.”

“George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America,” he continued. “And so I am fairly confident that they're going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it's the right thing to do, and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.”

Of course, there is a deja-vu quality to Mr. Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's immigration laws in the first year of his second term: he wanted to do so in the first year of his first term, too. In an interview with Jorge Ramos of Univision in 2008, he said: “I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I'm promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.”

Mitt Romney has pointed to that promise repeatedly to criticize the president. When Mr. Ramos asked Mr. Obama about that statement at a town-hall-style meeting in Miami this year, Mr. Obama said he had not anticipated that Republicans who previously supported reform “suddenly would walk away.”

Mr. Obama did try in December 2010 to pass the Dream Act, a bill that would give legal status to at least 1.2 million young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children. After an intense campaign by the White House, the bill passed the House of Representatives.

In the Senate, it failed - by 5 votes - to gain the 60 votes needed to go to the floor. With no prospect of passing legislation in Congress, Mr. Obama used executive authority in June to offer reprieves from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

Generally, Mr. Obama sounded almost as cautious in remarks he thought were off-the-record as he does in on-the-record interviews. There was nothing like Mr. Romney's remark at what he believed was an off-the-record fund-raiser earlier this year that 47 percent of Americans see themselves as victims, or like Mr. Obama's remarks at what h e thought was a closed fund-raiser that small-town Pennsylvania voters, bitter over their economic circumstances, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them.”

The White House agreed to make the interview public after the paper's editor wrote a blog post lamenting that “The Des Moines Register's publisher and I spoke with President Barack Obama this morning - but we can't tell you what he said.”

The published remarks shed light on what it's like when the president of the United States asks a newspaper for its endorsement.

“Thank you, guys,” the president is quoted as saying in the transcript. “I appreciate you taking the time. I want your endorsement.”

After his interviewers thanked him, Mr. Obama said: “You'll feel better when you give it. All right? Bye-bye.”

Follow Michael Cooper on Twitter at @coopnytimes.

How Bill Clinton May Have Hurt the Obama Campaign

When the histories of the 2012 campaign are written, much will be made of Bill Clinton's re-emergence. His convention speech may well have marked the finest moment of President Obama's re-election campaign, and his ads on the president's behalf were memorable.

But there is one crucial way in which the 42nd president may not have served the 44th quite as well. In these final weeks before the election, Mr. Clinton's expert advice about how to beat Mitt Romney is starting to look suspect.

You may recall that last spring, just after Mr. Romney locked up the Republican nomination, Mr. Obama's team abruptly switched its strategy for how to define him. Up to then, the White House had been portraying Mr. Romney much as George W. Bush had gone after John Kerry in 2004 â€" as inauthentic and inconstant, a soulless climber who would say anything to get the job.

But it was Mr. Clinton who forcefully argued to Mr. Obama's aides that the campaign had it wrong. The best way to go after Mr. Romney, the former president said, was to publicly grant that he was the “severe conservative” he claimed to be, and then hang that unpopular ideology around his neck.

In other words, Mr. Clinton counseled that independent voters might forgive Mr. Romney for having said whatever he had to say to win his party's nomination, but they would be far more reluctant to vote for him if they thought they were getting the third term of George W. Bush. Ever since, the Obama campaign has been hammering Mr. Romney as too conservative, while essentially giving him a pass for having traveled a tortured path on issues like health care reform, abortion and gay rights.

It's not hard to understand why Mr. Obama and his advisers took Mr. Clinton's advice to heart; to disregard it would be like telling Derek Jeter, “Hey man, appreciate the input, but I think I know how to make that flip play from the hole just fine on my own.† Nor is it hard to see how Mr. Clinton, given his own personal experience, may have reached his conclusion.

After all, if you're Bill Clinton, you have to look at it this way: for your entire career as a candidate, other politicians tried to paint you as waffling and slippery, and not once did it actually work. (Well, there was that gubernatorial defeat in 1980, but that had more to do with Jimmy Carter and a bunch of Cuban refugees than anything else.)

Meanwhile, you won a couple of national elections by positioning yourself as the pragmatic bulwark against conservative extremism on one side and liberal excess on the other. So it would be natural to have learned that it makes more sense to exploit your opponent's rigid ideology than his general squishiness.

But Mr. Clinton's situation was different from either Mr. Romney's or Mr. Obama's. For one thing, Mr. Clinton's brand of centrism - which Republicans, and a lot of Democrats, tried to portray as expedient - actually sprang from a coherent worldview. The charges of inauthenticity never seriously wounded Mr. Clinton because, unlike Mr. Romney, he had been remarkably consistent throughout his political life, and where there was inconsistency, Mr. Clinton had a singular ability to argue his way out of it.

Also, Mr. Clinton was able to set himself up against ideological extremism so successfully because he really was a centrist deal-maker, and everyone knew it. However much Mr. Obama may see himself in the same pragmatic vein, the voters, by and large, do not.

For a while this summer and into the fall, the Obama-Clinton strategy seemed to be working flawlessly. That's because, almost inexplicably, Mr. Romney continued to run as if he were still contesting the Republican primaries. But in recent weeks, starting with the first debate, the challenger has made a brazen and frantic dash to the center, and Mr. Obama has often seemed off-balance, as if stunned that Mr. Romney thinks he can get away with such an obvious change of course so late in the race. Which, apparently, he can.

The bottom line here is that one can over-think this whole notion of framing your opponent. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the line of attack that works best is the one that really rings true. In the case of Mr. Romney, whatever his stated positions may be, the idea that he's a far-right ideologue, a kind of Rush Limbaugh with better suits and frosty hair, just doesn't feel especially persuasive.

On the other hand, the notion that Mr. Romney isn't centered in any philosophical impulse - that he will say or do whatever it takes to win - seems more plausible, given his contortions on a range of policies, and given his excessive caution as a candidate.

If there's one thing voters have shown time and time again in recent elections, it's that they value authenticity above almost anything else. And Mr. Obama might have argued that this lack of a true north actually makes Mr. Romney more threatening to moderate voters than he would be if he were an actual ideologue, simply because he hasn't shown any inclination to stand up to the more extreme forces in his own party.

As it is, though, Mr. Obama has chosen his path, and he now has only a few weeks to convince a lot of independents in states like Ohio and Virginia that Mr. Romney really is some raging conservative, rather than the more malleable, somewhat awkward fellow he is impersonating on TV. It's an approach that has both pluses and minuses for Mr. Obama, much like the former president whose influence pervades his campaign.

Obama Kicks Off Nine-State Campaign Tour

DAVENPORT, Iowa - Air Force One landed at Quad Cities International Airport at 9 a.m. Central Time on Wednesday, to begin President Obama's two-day round-the-clock attack on swing states. The 747 is scheduled to touch down at Andrews Air Force Base just before midnight Eastern Time on Thursday.

During the 38 hours in between, Mr. Obama will hit a whopping nine states in a hard-charging opening burst to try to accelerate ahead of Mitt Romney in the last two weeks of this dead-heat campaign. So focused is Mr. Obama on gaining ground that he will be making calls to swing-state voters from the air, and he will spend Wednesday night not in a comfy hotel bed, but on his plane, on a red-eye flight to Florida.

It's too bad he doesn't drink coffee; he could surely use it.

“We're gonna pull an all-nighter!” a revved-up Mr. Obama told a crowd of 3,500 at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds here in Davenport. “No Sleep! We're starting in Iowa, then we're gonna g o to Colorado, then Nevada, California, then we're gonna go to Florida, then Virginia, Ohio, and then we're going to Illinois to vote.”


Perhaps aware of his limited time in each place, Mr. Obama ended his speech in Davenport after a short 16 minutes, so he could get back to his jam-packed schedule.

The furious campaign is a sign of the tight race, which has shown very little sign of movement in the past three weeks. In the next 13 days, Mr. Obama is focusing almost exclusively on eight swing states, where both campaigns believe the race will be won or lost.

Of those, none is more important than Ohio, where Mr. Obama ended his day yesterday, in Dayton, and where he will be again tomorrow evening, in Cleveland. Campaign aides have been working on the Ohio ground game furiously, urging Obama supporters to the polls for early voting.

Speaking to reporters on the bus headed back to Quad Cities airport after Mr. Obama's first stop on Wednesday , David Plouffe, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said that the Obama campaign, despite a narrative he said has developed in the press about Mr. Romney gaining momentum, is feeling good about the swing states. Mr. Plouffe said the Romney campaign “is overstating their Electoral College situation.”

But similar to what Mr. Obama did during the Democratic primaries in 2008 versus Hillary Clinton, Mr. Obama's campaign seemed very focused on the numbers, as they relate to the Electoral College. That means working on the ground game and get-out-the-vote effort among key Democratic constituencies, like African-Americans and Latinos.

For instance, Mr. Plouffe said, “there are hundreds of thousands more Latino and African-American voting than in 2008.”

Mr. Obama did not personally wade into the brewing fight over remarks this week by Richard Mourdock, the Republican running for a Senate seat in Indiana, that God intended for women who got pregnant as a result of rape to have their babies.

But his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, did, and promptly tied it to Mr. Romney, who has endorsed Mr. Mourdock. “The president felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women,” she told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Iowa. “This is an issue where Mitt Romney is starring in an ad” for Mr. Mourdock “and it is perplexing that he wouldn't demand to have that ad taken down.”

White House Releases Transcript of Register Talk

How badly does President Obama want to win The Des Moines Register endorsement?
Badly enough, it seems, that the White House reversed course Wednesday and released a transcript of a conversation Mr. Obama had one day earlier with the newspaper's editor and publisher that had been deemed off-the-record.
“I want your endorsement,” the president said, adding: “You'll feel better when you give it.”
Iowa's six electoral votes are a critical piece to the Electoral College puzzle. Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney are both visiting the state on Wednesday.
But a dustup over the off-the-record demand had threatened to compete with Mr. Obama's campaign rally in Davenport, so the White House released the interview with The Des Moines Register in which the president argued his case for a second-term.
“You guys have seen me up close,” Mr. Obama said. “I wouldn't be on the national stage had it not been for the people of Iowa.
The newspaper will an nounce its endorsement on Saturday evening.

Many in Middle Class \'Guess\' on Retirement Needs

Three-fourths of middle-class Americans say their estimate of what they'll need to live on in retirement is based on “some sort of guess,” a new survey finds.

And those guesses often appear off the mark, according to the annual Wells Fargo Retirement Survey.
For instance, middle-class Americans say they believe the median cost of their out-of-pocket health care costs in retirement will be $47,000. But the Center for Retirement Research estimates a typical couple at age 65 can expect to spend $260,000 or more over the rest of their lives.

Further, when asked what percentage of their nest egg they expect to withdraw annually in retirement, the median - or typical - withdrawal predicted by middle-class Americans is 10 percent. But most experts recommend annual withdrawals of 3 to 4 percent.

In addition, middle-class Americans say they'll need a median of $300,000 to support themselves in retirement - but to date have sa ved only $25,000.

The survey also found that 34 percent of middle-class Americans estimate that their retirement income will be half their current annual income, or less. The median household income for Americans was roughly $50,000 last year, so that means many are planning on living on $25,000.

“Clearly, the guessing doesn't work,” said Laurie Nordquist, a director of institutional retirement and trust services at Wells Fargo. The survey findings suggest that many consumers are too focused on paying day-to-day bills to spend more time on retirement planning, she said, even though that's clearly warranted.

Harris Interactive Inc. conducted the telephone survey of 1,000 middle-class adults from July 9 through Sept. 12. To aim at the middle class, participants fell within specified income and wealth brackets. For example, those between the ages of 30 and 75 had 2011 household income of $50,000 to $99,999, and assets of $25,000 to $99,999 that could be in vested.

Have you done detailed calculations of your financial needs in retirement, or are you, too, playing the guessing game?


Republicans Struggle to Contain Mourdock Comments

Republicans struggled Wednesday to prevent their Indiana Senate candidate's comments on rape and abortion from brewing into an Akin-like firestorm, strongly pushing back on any suggestion that Richard Mourdock,  the state treasurer, had condoned rape in a political debate Tuesday night.

In a statement released Wednesday morning, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, claimed that Mr. Mourdock's position is no different from that of Representative Joe Donnelly, the Democratic candidate in the unexpectedly tight contest.

“Richard and I, along with millions of Americans - including even Joe Donnelly - believe that life is a gift from God. To try and construe his words as anything other than a restatement of that belief is irresponsible and ridiculous,” Senator Cornyn said.  “In fact, rather than condemning him for his position, as some in his party have when it's come to Republicans, I commend Congressma n Donnelly for his support of life.”

Mr. Mourdock's words, however, appear to have a life of their own. They've already spread across the Atlantic Ocean with French, German and Spanish newspapers jumping on the story. Democrats are not likely to let up, with less than two weeks to go before election day, as they press a narrative that depicts the Republican Party as out of step with women.

Mr. Mourdock's statements came during a debate Tuesday with Mr. Donnelly and Andrew Horning, the Libertarian candidate. Mr. Mourdock tried to distinguish himself from two opponents who also oppose abortion, explaining why he does not accept an exception for pregnancies conceived by rape.

“I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mr. Mourdock said. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

The comment did not yield much of a response from Mr. Donnelly, but other Democrats pounced soon after the debate. And Mr. Mourdock released a statement to clarify, “God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”

Republicans noted that Mr. Donnelly, an Irish Catholic whose base is in South Bend, the home to Notre Dame University, co-sponsored controversial legislation in 2011 that would have changed the federal ban on abortion funding to exempt conceptions from “forcible” rape, not just rape. The Mourdock campaign said this backing showed Mr. Donnelly believe pregnancies from statutory rape or incest should have to be carried to term.

Mr. Donnelly had said, earlier this year, he was not aware that Republican authors of the bill had added the “forcible” language and was glad when an outcry forced them to remove it.

But in politic s, explaining a position is a bad sign, especially 13 days before election day. And the rape-and-abortion theme is threatening to push the close Indiana Senate race into the realm of the Missouri Senate race, another campaign that was supposed to favor Republicans before Republican Todd Akin‘s defense of his opposition to abortion in cases of rape through the contest out of kilter. The incumbent Democrat in Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill, is now expected to hold her seat.

If the Mourdock comments similarly explode, it could also singe Mitt Romney, who cut a television advertisement, released on Monday, endorsing Mr. Mourdock. Already, Democrats are asking whether the Republican presidential nominee - who supports abortion in the case of rape, incest and when the health of the mother is at risk - will renounce that endorsement. On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee released an ad montaging footage of the debate with Mr. Romney's endorsement.

Mr. Co rnyn tried Wednesday to change the subject.

“This election is about big ideas and the reality that our country is going in the wrong direction,” he said in a statement. “If you support Obamacare, government bailouts, reckless spending and higher taxes than you should vote for Joe Donnelly. But if you believe, as I do, that our government is too big, our taxes are too high, and we are passing an irresponsible debt onto future generations, than Richard Mourdock is your candidate to help get our country back on track.”

Mr. Mourdock beat Senator Richard Lugar, a six-term moderate, in the Republican primary in May.

Collective Rebuttal Delivered in Third-Party Debate

Even though a debate featuring third-party presidential candidates was supposed to highlight the breadth of ideological diversity in American politics, Larry King, the moderator, had to remind the four nominees that they had to actually disagree about something to issue a rebuttal.

Tuesday night's meeting of long shots, held in Chicago, was intended as a rebuttal to the debates held between the nominees for the Democratic and Republican Parties. Not only have the candidates from the Green, Libertarian, Constitution and Justice Parties been excluded from the showdowns sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, so have the issues they care about most: civil liberties after Sept. 11, the role of corporate money in politics and a political class more concerned about keeping power than answering to the people.

Sometimes, those issues can contribute to a sideshow stereotype, as when drug legalization became a major topic - and source of consensus - at the Chicago debate, which was sponsored by Free and Equal, a nonprofit group that promotes open elections.

The call by the liberals, Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, for an end to the war on drugs was amplified by Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. Mr. Johnson offered bona fides on the question: “I have drank alcohol, I have smoked marijuana” - though not anymore, he said. Even Virgil Goode of the conservative Constitution Party, who opposes legalization, said he would cut financing for federal drug enforcement in the name of closing the deficit.

But their passion and refusal to compromise on the principles that reflect their ideas of American democracy marked each person on stage. In an illustration of the circular nature of the political spectrum, the staunch liberals and small-government conservatives all firmly opposed the practice of indefinite detention without trial and said that the Pentagon's budget should be cut as the United States takes a less aggressive posture.

“We cannot be the policemen of the world,” Mr. Goode said, followed shortly by Ms. Stein's similar sentiment: “A foreign policy based on militarism and brute military force is making us less secure, not more secure.”

The particular set questions, submitted by social media and the event's organizers, disproportionately addressed issues where the candidates' views are alike. It took a question about the cost of college to reveal strong differences. Ms. Stein, a physician, and Mr. Anderson, a former Democrat and mayor of Salt Lake City, both said the government should provide free higher education. The right-leaning candidates both said they would cut Pell grants, Mr. Johnson reasoning that guaranteed government loans make universities “immune from pricing.”

And even Mr. Johnson and Mr. Goode had differences. The latter said he would cut off immigration until the unemployment rate dropped to 5 percent, while Mr. Johnson, a former New Mexico governor who unsuccessfully ran in the G.O.P. primary, wants to make it easier for immigrants to get work visas.

Both men have been seen as possible spoilers for Mitt Romney, and Mr. Goode seemed to particularly relish that potential. A former Virginia congressman, he overcame Republicans' efforts to keep him off the ballot in that state, and he frequently contrasted his plans to cut the budget with the slower approach of the Republican ticket.

While the six questions at the Free and Equal debate touched on topics neglected in the official face-offs, the candidates were not asked to delve into the issues that have dominated the conventional discussion, including jobs, health care, and taxes.

Because the debate focused on ideas and principles - rather than the candidates' records and qualifications - the tone of the debate was genuinely warm, without any of the direct engagement or interruptions that have marked the Obama-Romney and Biden-Ryan debates. In fact, the only person on the defensive at any point was the red-suspendered Mr. King.

After the first question was asked and answered (pretty much everyone thought the “top 2″ primary system like that adopted in California this cycle is a bad idea), one of the candidates pointed out that they had skipped opening statements. Mr. King was quick to deflect responsibility.

“It was not in my notes,” the veteran interviewer said. “I'm a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, so I do what I'm told.”

Free and Equal announced it would hold a second debate on Oct. 30 in Washington with just two candidates, to be chosen by viewers in an online vote.

Wednesday Reading: Learning to Live With Urban Coyotes

A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

  • Standard of living slump looms in the shadows. (National)
  • Rome fines snackers at historic monuments. (International)
  • Montana shooting brings scrutiny of “castle” law. (National)
  • Credit-card data breach at Barnes &  Noble stores. (Business)
  •  College prices rise again. (National)
  • New federal rules for debt collectors. (Business)
  • Safety becomes a concern with high-caffeine drinks. (Business)
  • Dumplings: Good thing, small package. (Dining)
  • Peanut butter takes on an unlikely best friend. (Dining)
  • Candy gets a healthful upgrade. (Dining)
  • The ultimate pizza-delivery vehicle. (Wheels)
  • Move to the cloud in the least-expensive iPad mini. (Bits)
  • Keeping an An droid device secure. (Gadgetwise)
  • Learning to live with urban coyotes. (Green)
  • Laughter as a form of exercise. (Well)
  • Would you put a tracking device on  your child? (Motherlode)
  • Answers to questions about the ACT and  SAT, Part 2. (The Choice)
  • A Eurail pass now to include Turkey. (In Transit)
  • Why you should love Sao Paulo. (Frugal Traveler)

Wednesday Reading: Learning to Live With Urban Coyotes

A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

  • Standard of living slump looms in the shadows. (National)
  • Rome fines snackers at historic monuments. (International)
  • Montana shooting brings scrutiny of “castle” law. (National)
  • Credit-card data breach at Barnes &  Noble stores. (Business)
  •  College prices rise again. (National)
  • New federal rules for debt collectors. (Business)
  • Safety becomes a concern with high-caffeine drinks. (Business)
  • Dumplings: Good thing, small package. (Dining)
  • Peanut butter takes on an unlikely best friend. (Dining)
  • Candy gets a healthful upgrade. (Dining)
  • The ultimate pizza-delivery vehicle. (Wheels)
  • Move to the cloud in the least-expensive iPad mini. (Bits)
  • Keeping an An droid device secure. (Gadgetwise)
  • Learning to live with urban coyotes. (Green)
  • Laughter as a form of exercise. (Well)
  • Would you put a tracking device on  your child? (Motherlode)
  • Answers to questions about the ACT and  SAT, Part 2. (The Choice)
  • A Eurail pass now to include Turkey. (In Transit)
  • Why you should love Sao Paulo. (Frugal Traveler)

The Early Word: Blitz

In Today's Times

  • President Obama's campaign began a furious two-week effort on Tuesday to beat back a late surge by Mitt Romney, a blitz that Mr. Romney called desperate, Michael D. Shear and Helene Cooper report.
  • Issues like taxes and government spending have dominated the presidential campaign, obscuring what economists argue is the nation's biggest challenge: the income stagnation that has afflicted the middle class and the poor and that has exacerbated inequality. The causes of the problem cannot be addressed easily in political sound bites like the calls to bring down the budget or avert another Wall Street meltdown, David Leonhardt writes.
  • Though the Supreme Court's 2010 decision on campaign spending was expected to be an unalloyed advantage for Republicans, some party members in the House are not so happy with its effects on a sullen and disenchanted electorate and are talking about re-examining campaign-finance laws, Jen nifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman report.
  • The world is watching the race between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, and the coverage from other countries reveals as much about how they see themselves as it does about the American political process, Ellen Barry reports.
  • Some well-financed conservative activists are testing the boundaries of how far they can go to disqualify Mr. Obama, Jeremy W. Peters writes. A new anti-Obama DVD dropping into Florida voters' mailboxes is the latest example of how secretive forces outside the presidential campaigns can sweep into battleground states days before the election, and add a potentially game-changing element to the mix.

Happenings in Washington

  • Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, will host a Breast Cancer Awareness Month reception at the Naval Observatory.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has a busy Wednesday scheduled. She will meet wit h Brazil's foreign minister, Antônio de Aguiar Patriota; swear in the American ambassador to Poland; deliver remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the State Department's modernized Nuclear Risk Reduction Center; and attend a meeting at the White House.


Eastwood Is Back in a Campaign Ad for Romney

Clint Eastwood is back on the Republican stage. But this time there's a script, a 30-second time limit and none of the potential tripwires of live television.

Mr. Eastwood, whose long and sometimes incoherent monologue at the Republican National Convention in August left many ardent Republicans cheering but others dumbfounded, is the star of a new commercial from the “super PAC” American Crossroads.

But if he was all jokes in Tampa, Fla., Mr. Eastwood is nothing but serious in this new advertisement, in which he indicts President Obama's term as a failure and urges people to vote for Mitt Romney.

“Obama's second term would be a rerun of the first, and our country just couldn't survive that,” he says. “We need someone who could turn it around fast, and that man is Mitt Romney. There's no t much time left, and the future of our country is at stake.”

Steven Law, the president of American Crossroads, said he had heard before the convention that Mr. Eastwood might be interested in starring in an ad. But he said he did not actually pursue the acclaimed director and actor until after his performance in Tampa.

“I think what struck us in Tampa was not so much what the media talked about,” Mr. Law said. “But in his remarks, he delivered some really powerful lines about democracy, things like: ‘You own this country. The politicians work for you.' ”

After some testing, Crossroads found that potential audiences, who are often wary of celebrity endorsements, still appreciated Mr. Eastwood as an American icon and liked the idea of his appearance in the ad as long as it did not seem overdone. So while Mr. Eastwood narrates the entire ad, he appears on camera only at the very end.

Mr. Eastwood, in an e-mailed statement, explained his moti ves. “I did the ad because I'm concerned for our country,” he said. “I really believe Mitt Romney is the kind of leader we need right now. He's an experienced businessman, and he knows how to work with people to fix problems. It's time to give someone else a chance to fix our country.”

The ad starts running Wednesday in seven states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.