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As Mitt Romney makes his final pitch to voters, he is casting himself as the candidate of change, the only one in the presidential race who can fix Washington. It is an attempt at role reversal, as the Republican presidential nominee tries to own the message that President Barack Obama used effectively in 2008 to persuade voters that he could move the country beyond its partisan stalemate.
Mr. Obama has been arguing that he has brought the change he promised. He says that Mr. Romney’s brand of change would be a reversion to the policies of the last Republican president, George W. Bush.
“Change” was Mr. Obama’s hallmark slogan four years ago, but it is tougher to for any incumbent to make that pitch in a re-election campaign. Instead, Mr. Obama is touting his own record instead of pledging to alter the course set by his predecessor.
Mr. Romney has moved to cast his opponent as offering more of the same. “Unfortunately, we have a president today who represents the status quo,” Mr. Romney said Tuesday at a rally in Las Vegas. “His campaign slogan is ‘Forward.’ That doesn’t suggest change, does it?”
On Wednesday, Mr. Romney told supporters here, “It doesn’t feel like forward. It feels like backward.”
Mr. Obama says Mr. Romney, by contrast, has backed away from the stances he took earlier in the campaign on tax cuts, the auto bailout and other matters, and that Mr. Romney is hiding his conservative opinions.
“All of this speaks to something that’s really important, and that is the issue of trust,” Mr. Obama said Wednesday at a rally in Davenport, Iowa. “There’s no more serious issue on a presidential campaign than trust. Trust matters. And here’s the thing. Iowa, you know me. You know that I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
The president also argues that what Mr. Romney calls change would mean going back to the policies of Mr. Bush, which in Mr. Obama’s telling would mean additional tax cuts for the wealthy, an out-of-control Wall Street and a rising deficit.
Mr. Romney, meanwhile, is telling voters, “I’m willing to do the work with Paul Ryan that it takes to change Washington.”
Both candidates are speeding through battleground states in the final days of the campaign. Mr. Romney spoke in Nevada on Wednesday and was due in Iowa.
On Friday, he will deliver what could be his last major address before Election Day, in Ames, Iowa, in a speech that aims to reinforce divisions between the two candidates on the economy, a Romney adviser said.
Mr. Obama on Wednesday began a two-day swing through the battleground states of Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, with events in Florida, Virginia and Ohio set for Thursday.
Mr. Obama provoked a controversy in Iowa Wednesday by granting an interview to the editor and publisher of the Des Moines Register as part of the paper’s endorsement process, but asked that it remain off the record.
The White House later relented and allowed the transcript to be published after the newspaper called on it to do so.
In the interview, Mr. Obama told the Register he was “absolutely confident” that he and Republicans in Congress can come to some agreement on what is often called a “grand bargain” to reduce the deficit through a mix of spending cuts, including those to health-care programs, and tax increases on the wealthy.
The president predicted both sides would come to an agreement in the next six months, adding, “It will probably be messy.”
He also predicted he could pass a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws, saying that Republicans would lose the Hispanic vote by large margins this year and then conclude that backing an overhaul was in their political interest.
In TV ads and campaign speeches, Mr. Obama works to balance his sharp critique of Mr. Romney with a more positive appeal to the voters who are already casting ballots. “The American people are tougher than any tough times,” he said in Davenport. “That’s why I’m asking for your vote today.”
In another attempt to persuade supporters to vote early, the Obama campaign released a TV ad reminding Democrats that a mere 537 votes put Republican George W. Bush in the White House by allowing him to carry the state of Florida in 2000.
On the stump, each candidate has appeared energized in recent days, jabbing his opponent with enthusiasm.
“This is the second stop on our 48-hour, marathon-extravaganza fly-around,” Mr. Obama told a crowd estimated by the local fire chief at 16,000 at a city park in Denver. “We are pulling an all-nighter. No sleep; quite a bit of coffee.”
When Mr. Romney took the stage Tuesday night at Red Rocks amphitheater near Denver, he appeared emotional as he surveyed a crowd his campaign estimated at 12,000, pausing a few moments before launching into his stump speech.