Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio): Inviting supporters to taunt Barack Obama with chants of "four more weeks," rival Mitt Romney surged into the lead in US opinion polls on Tuesday, his reward for beating the president in their first head-to-head debate.
With both candidates campaigning in perennial kingmaker state Ohio, top Obama aides put a brave face on the President's slide, insisting they had always known his re-election bid would be tough.
A flurry of new polls showed the delayed impact of Mr Romney's debate triumph last week in Denver.
For the first time since he accepted the Republican Party nomination, Mr Romney topped the widely-read poll of polls conducted by the RealClearPolitics website, albeit by only 0.7 points.
And he led Mr Obama by two points in daily tracking polls by Gallup and Investors Business Daily. The pair were tied in another tracking poll by Rasmussen, with both at 48 percent.
Mr Romney reveled in his campaign's resurrection and the prospect that he might be considered something close to the frontrunner.
"Today, there are 28 days before the election," Mr Romney told a crowd of about 12,000 people in Cuyahoga Falls, his largest to date in Ohio.
"I think the right chant ought to be for them: 'Four more weeks! Four more weeks!'"
The raucous supporters obliged, and Mr Romney followed up by letting them know just how important the first debate was.
"I actually think the people have heard what he had to say," Mr Romney said of Barack Obama, "and it's time for them to see him leave the White House and to say goodbye to him on November 6th."
Meanwhile at Mr Obama's rally in Columbus, Ohio, the large crowd was chanting "four more years! Four more years!" after the President took the stage.
"I need you ready to go to vote because we've got some work to do. We've got an election to win," Mr Obama said.
"Everything that we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012."
Despite the clear bounce in Mr Romney support, national polls predicting the result of the popular vote are only one reflection of the race and campaign chieftains are more interested in the eight or so swing states that will decide the election.
Mr Obama is up in most battlegrounds, though full data is yet to emerge on local races following the debate.
And in a welcome respite for the President's camp, struggling to shake off the fallout of last week's listless debate performance, a CNN/ORC poll showed Mr Obama holding steady in Ohio.
Mr Obama led by 51 to 47 percent among likely voters in the state, which no Republican has lost while winning the White House and which the Mr Obama camp sees as a huge step toward the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
Mr Romney's senior aide Kevin Madden told reporters the campaign was not getting carried away by Mr Romney's sudden spurt, despite mounting excitement among Republicans, many of whom feared the race was slipping away.
"I think you can't put too much stock in this idea of momentum. It's a very elusive thing," he said.
"We still believe this is going to be a campaign that is very close, but we do see a lot of enthusiasm from a lot of our core supporters, and we see a lot of undecided voters that are taking a new look at Governor Romney."
Mr Obama's camp insisted, with some justification, that it has long predicted a tight fight, with the President running for re-election in an uncertain economic environment.
"We've always felt this race would be close," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One.
"We've always run this race like we're five points down."
As Mr Obama addressed his rally at Ohio State University on the first day of early voting in the state, Mr Romney was at Cuyahoga Falls outside Cleveland with New Jersey's plain-spoken Governor Chris Christie along for the ride.
"Alright, Ohio, you ready to get the job done?" Christie boomed.
With a political map that still favors Obama, the focus of the race is increasingly turning to Thursday's debate clash between Vice President Joe Biden and Mr Romney's running mate Paul Ryan, seen as key to Obama's hopes of checking Romney's sudden surge.
Mr Obama has tried to reassure disappointed Democrats that he is still hungry for victory ahead of his debate rematches with Romney on October 16 and 22.
"Listen, after the debate, I had a bunch of folks come to me (saying) -- 'don't be so polite, don't be so nice,'" Obama said Monday in San Francisco.
At another event, he vowed: "I am pretty competitive and I very much intend to win this election."
Mr Romney's itinerary Tuesday was no mistake: should Obama win both Iowa and Ohio, the Republican would have to counter with victory in several states seen as solidly Democratic if he is to oust the president from the White House.
The Obama camp said it has superior organisation in Ohio, with more than 1,200 local officers to identify and drive out voters, and plans to stress Mr Obama's backing of an auto industry bailout that Mr Romney opposed.
When Mr Obama reminded Ohioans of Mr Romney's call to let the auto industry go bankrupt, the crowd booed. "Don't boo, vote," the President said.
Story first published:
October 10, 2012 09:34 IST