By The Associated Press
APOPKA, Fla. (AP) — Mitt Romney is showing his softer side, while President Barack Obama works to extend his cash advantage as both men begin the final-month sprint to Election Day.
The Republican presidential nominee was spending a second consecutive day campaigning in Florida on Sunday, where he is drawing on the success of his recent debate performance and pressing a populist message.
“These are tough years for the middle class and the poor in America,” he told more than 6,000 supporters Saturday night at an amphitheater in Apopka, Fla., near Orlando.
He later shared his personal connection to three people who have died, including a former classmate who attended one of his rallies despite being wheelchair-bound.
Romney said he whispered in his friend’s ear, “I love ya and God bless ya.”
“He died the next day,” he continued. “It’s rare that you get a chance to tell someone how much you love him while you still can.”
The message is part of a larger strategy to emphasize Romney’s compassionate side and centrist political positions as he courts the slice of voters yet to settle on a candidate.
Obama, meanwhile, is trying to recover from a lackluster debate last week that gave his Republican rival some badly needed momentum. The president got some good news of his own when Friday’s jobs report put the nation’s unemployment rate at the lowest level of his presidency.
Obama’s campaign is well-positioned to press his message that the nation’s economy is moving in the right direction over the contest’s final month. While polls suggest the race is tightening, Obama and his party on Saturay reported raising $181 million in September. It was their best fundraising month of the campaign, but short of their record $190 million in the 2008 campaign, also in September.
Romney’s campaign has not released its report for the month, and Republicans sought to downplay Obama’s financial advantage. The party’s national chairman, Reince Priebus, said he had been counting all along on being outraised by Obama and Democrats.
“This isn’t going to come down to money. This is going to come down to heart,” Priebus said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “We’ll beat them on the ground, and we’ll have all the money we need to be competitive.”
Obama was setting out Sunday to collect more campaign cash over two days in California. The state is safely in Obama’s column but drawing his attention because it is rich with Democratic donors.
In what will be his final fundraising trip out West this election, Obama’s celebrity friends — from actors to singers to chefs — will come out in force to help him get others to donate. Obama was expected to raise several million dollars.
Such a dedicated focus on fundraising this late in the campaign underscores the central role of money in swaying votes, particularly in television advertising in the eight to nine states that will decide the outcome.
On Sunday, Obama was holding two fundraisers in Los Angeles. He is also appearing at a small, elite gathering at the home of entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, where Obama will be joined by former President Bill Clinton. His campaign calls the gathering a “thank you event” for longtime donors.
Obama’s main event will be his remarks at a star-studded concert at the Nokia Theatre, marking 30 days until the election. Actor George Clooney and musical guests Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi and Katy Perry will entertain the crowd.
The president will wrap up his night at Wolfgang Puck’s WP24 restaurant, high above the L.A. skyline in the Ritz-Carlton hotel. With 150 people expected at a cost of $25,000 per person, that event alone will raise $3.75 million.
Obama’s trip, in total, will be three days, covering fundraisers in San Francisco and a rally in Columbus, Ohio, the state at the center of both campaign’s efforts.
The only official presidential business on the trip comes Monday in Keene, Calif., where Obama will designate as a national monument the home of Latino leader Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farmworkers Union who died in 1993. Yet even that move has political implications. It resonates with some Hispanic voters, who supported Obama by a 2-to-1 margin in 2008 and favor him by a similar margin over Romney in this election, polling shows.
The weekend had Obama on a high, and he needed it after a lackluster midweek debate against Romney that gave fresh hope to the challenger’s bid. Even Robert Gibbs, a top Obama campaign adviser, conceded that Romney had delivered “a masterful, masterful performance.”
“But I don’t think Gov. Romney’s positions have changed, and fundamentally, I don’t think the campaign has changed,” Gibbs said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Meanwhile, Romney’s campaign unveiled a new television ad claiming Obama is not telling the truth when he says Romney wants to cut $5 trillion in taxes. The campaign has not said where the ad will run.
Obama’s campaign is also running a new TV ad called “Dishonest,” which carries on the post-debate theme that Romney grossly misrepresented his own positions as well as Obama’s on taxes. Online videos were posted by the campaign with the mantra, “Romney won’t tell the truth,” about Medicare, energy, taxes and more.