AP Political Writer
RICHMOND, Va. - His once-comfortable lead in Virginia in doubt, President Barack Obama has made a plaintive and urgent appeal to thousands of supporters not to give up on his quest for a second term while renewing his harangues of Republican Mitt Romney.
His voice reduced to a hoarse shout amid a two-day, all-out blitz of Virginia and five other swing states, the president portrayed Romney on Thursday as a pandering shape-shifter, molding his message to polls and political expedience.
Romney, Obama said, is intent on reversing protections against predatory Wall Street investment practices that contributed to the 2008 economic meltdown. And with a new Associated Press-GfK poll showing Romney had erased Obama's 16 percentage point advantage among women voters, he called the GOP ticket hostile to reproductive rights, citing Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's recent comments that pregnancies caused by rape are "something God intended."
"Now Gov. Romney wants to take us back to those policies, but he knows that they're not very popular. He knows they aren't any different from the policies that got us into trouble, so in the final weeks of this election, he's counting on you forgetting. He's hoping you come down with a case of what we call Romnesia," Obama said.
"I want you to know if you think you're coming down with a case of Romnesia, Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions," he said.
Now in a desperate fight to keep his job after a poor performance in his first debate against Romney, Obama's tone and message took on character that was both plaintive and urgent.
In Virginia, polls show Obama and Romney in a close race. A month ago, those same polls showed the president building a lead over Romney.
Obama didn't have the swing state he won in 2008 to himself Thursday.
In Bristol, in the state's southwestern tip, Romney's running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, reminded about 1,500 people in Bristol near Virginia's coalfields of Obama administration clean air efforts that were harming the coal industry.
"The worst thing that could happen is President Obama gets re-elected and we have more of the same with a debt crisis," Ryan said. "The second worst thing that could happen is we get elected by default, without a mandate."
Ryan scheduled an appearance later Thursday in Charlottesville.
Both campaigns also made it clear that the battle for Virginia would continue full-throttle to election day. Romney plans three Virginia stops on Sunday, and Obama announced a joint appearance next week in Prince William County with former President Bill Clinton.
Obama's 20-minute speech roused about 15,000 people who had waited up to six hours shoulder-to-shoulder under a blazing sun in a suburban park.
With temperatures in the low- to mid-80s, medics scrambled throughout the day to aid people who succumbed to heat and dehydration in the secure, rectangular area that stretched from the podium where Obama spoke to the city's landmark Carillon about 200 yards to the south.
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