PATASKALA, Ohio (AP) — Down to a fierce finish, President Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of scaring voters with lies on Friday, while the Republican challenger warned grimly of political paralysis and another recession if Obama reclaims the White House. Heading into the final weekend, the race's last big report on the economy showed hiring picking up but millions still out of work.
"Four more days!" Romney supporters bellowed at his rally in Wisconsin. "Four more years!" Obama backers shouted as the president campaigned in Ohio.
With Ohio at the center of it all, the candidates sharpened their closing lines, both clutching to the mainstream middle while lashing out at one another. Virtually all of the nine homestretch battleground states were getting personal attention from the contenders or top members of their teams, and Romney was pressing hard to add Pennsylvania to the last-minute mix.
Urgency could be felt all across the campaign, from the big and boisterous crowds to the running count that roughly 24 million people already have voted. Outside the White House, workers were setting the foundation for the inaugural viewing stand for the Jan. 20 tradition.
Obama, for the first time, personally assailed Romney over ads suggesting that automakers General Motors and Chrysler are adding jobs in China at the expense of auto-industry dependent Ohio. Both companies have called the ads untrue. The matter is sensitive in Ohio, perhaps the linchpin state of the election.
"I know we're close to an election, but this isn't a game," Obama said from Hilliard, Ohio, a heavily Republican suburb of the capital city of Columbus. "These are people's jobs. These are people's lives. ... You don't scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes."
For once, the intensely scrutinized monthly jobs report seemed overshadowed by the pace of the presidential race and unlikely to affect the outcome.
Employers added a better-than-expected 171,000 jobs in October, underscoring that the economy is improving. But the rate is still short of what will be needed to seriously shrink unemployment. The jobless rate ticked up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent — mainly because more people jumped back into the search for work.
No issue matters more to voters than the economy, the centerpiece of a Romney message called the closing case of his campaign.
He said an Obama presidency would mean more broken relations with Congress, showdowns over government shutdowns, a chilling effect on the economy and perhaps "another recession."
"He has never led, never worked across the aisle, never truly understood how jobs are created in the economy," said Romney, a former private equity firm executive, in a campaign stop in Wisconsin.
"This is why I am running for president," Romney said. "I know how to change the course the nation is on."
Democrats sought to kick the legs out of Romney's late-campaign theme of bipartisanship.
"Mitt Romney's fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his 'severely conservative' agenda is laughable," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
For his part, Obama claimed he would deal with Republicans — "I love working with them" — but not at the expense of budget cuts that hurt college students and the elderly.
While the politics intensified, real-life misery played out in the Northeast.
The death toll and anger kept climbing in the aftermath of the massive storm Sandy. Millions were without power, and many drivers could find no gasoline.
Obama noted at the top of his campaign speeches that he was still commanding the federal storm response. He also managed to tie it to the theme of his political bid. "We rise or fall as one nation and as one people," he said, before launching directly to the economic recovery under his watch.
Polling shows the race remains a legitimate toss-up heading into the final days. But Romney still has the tougher path to victory because he must win more of the nine most-contested states to reach 270 electoral votes: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire.
The Republican was making a late, concerted push into Pennsylvania, drawing jeers from Obama aides who called it desperation. Obama won the state comfortably in 2008. Romney appeared to making his play as one more path to the presidency should he lose Ohio.
But Romney's foray into Pennsylvania is not folly. Unlike states that emphasize early voting, Pennsylvania will see most votes cast on Election Day. The state has not been saturated with political advertising, giving Romney and his supporting groups — still flush with cash — an opportunity to sway last-minute voters with a barrage of commercials. Obama is countering by buying commercial time in the state as well and is sending former President Bill Clinton into the state to campaign.
The candidates' wives and running mates fanned out to the South, Midwest and West to cover more ground.
"Here's what it comes down to: We can't afford to wait four more years for real change to get us on the right track," said the Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, rallying for votes in Montrose, Colo. "We only need to wait four more days."
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden was in Beloit, Wis., in a middle school near Ryan's hometown of Janesville.
Referring to Ryan, Biden said: "I know the guy next door doesn't recognize it, but we actually did rescue the auto industry." The crowd roared.
Obama reached beyond the big cities of Ohio before heading back to the White House. Romney was holding larger rallies up to an evening kickoff for the final campaign weekend, joining up with his running mate and their wives.
AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Julie Pace and Julie Carr Smyth in Hilliard, Ohio, Steve Peoples in Pataskala, Ohio, Daniel Sewell in Cincinnati, Ann Sanner in Springfield, Ohio, Matthew Daly in Beloit, Wis., Philip Elliott in Montrose, Colo., and Jim Kuhnhenn and Mark S. Smith in Washington contributed to this report.