President Barack Obama, heading into his party’s convention next week, was ready to promise better days even for those who do not feel better off as Republican rival Mitt Romney, confident after his party’s convention, said - “We love this country and we’re taking it back.”
Eager to project an aura of leadership, Mr. Romney swooped in on rain-drenched Louisiana, while Obama stood with troops in Texas and reminded the nation that he ended the war in Iraq. Mr. Obama, too, will visit storm-battered Louisiana on Monday, a move the White House said was decided before Mr. Romney revealed his plans.
The race for the White House, which culminates in the November general election, suddenly felt more urgent on Friday, a final heated day of August giving way to a two-month stretch, in which many voters will get serious about making their choices or even voting for one in the states that allow early balloting.
The political buzz followed Mr. Romney, hours after a convention speech, in which he introduced himself to America and asked on-the-fence voters to let go of a President who “has disappointed America.”
But attention was shifting to Mr. Obama, the incumbent, who gets the last shot at making a lasting impression before the October debates.
The coming days, capped by Mr. Obama’s speech on Thursday night, will crystalise his re-election pitch - an economy built on ending tax cuts for the rich and putting more effort into education, energy, tax reform and debt reduction.
Building by the day, the convention roll-in for Mr. Obama will take him through the battleground states of Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. Presidents are not chosen by a nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests, making battleground states, which are neither reliably Republican nor Democratic especially important.
At the event itself, First Lady Michelle Obama will command the stage one night, followed the next by Bill Clinton, who will ask voters to remember the good times and pledge Mr. Obama can return them.
To put a face on the election message, Mr. Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden will be joined on political stops by what their campaign calls “American Heroes,” such as a student or teacher or veteran whose life story reflects Mr. Obama’s agenda. The Democratic National Convention will also feature them.
Mr. Romney kept up a campaign pace out of his convention, with plans for stops in Ohio and Florida on Saturday before a quieter stretch into Labour Day.
Friday was a pivot point, but hardly a breather in the window between the two conventions.
Before heading separately out of Tampa, Mr. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan wooed the voters of powerful Florida, which went for Mr. Obama in 2008.
“Hold us accountable. Listen to what we have to say,” Mr. Romney said. “I plan on winning in Florida. We love this country and we’re taking it back.”
Mr. Romney then travelled to Louisiana to inspect Hurricane Isaac’s damage. It was the kind of trip better associated with a President than a presidential candidate Mr. Romney has no authority to direct help but he did draw attention to the plight of victims there. The White House offered no complaints.
For Mr. Obama, it was a day of official events, not campaigning, although with 67 days to go until Election Day there is little distinction.
Surrounded by troops in camouflage, he appeared as commander-in-chief more than candidate, announcing steps to help war veterans cope with mental health struggles. Yet the visit also served as an election year reminder that he closed out the Iraq war and has pledged an end to the Afghanistan war at the end of 2014.
“We’re not just ending these wars,” he said. “We’re doing it in a way that keeps America safe and makes America stronger, and that includes our military.”