Even while cloistered for debate prep at a sprawling resort in Williamsburg, Va., though, the president did not completely cede the spotlight to Romney. His weekly radio and Internet address highlighted his administration's work to revive the U.S. auto industry - a message aimed squarely at working-class voters in manufacturing-heavy states such as Ohio.
Romney, for his part, told a crowd of more than 3,000 at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth that Obama was ducking an important decision on whether China is manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage. A decision was due Monday, but the Treasury Department said Friday the decision would not come until after global finance officials meet in early November. That means a decision is unlikely before the Nov. 6 election.
"It's time for us to stand up to China for their cheating," Romney declared. "It's got to stop."
Romney framed the issue squarely as a matter of jobs, saying cheap Chinese products were driving American companies out of business.
"We've got to get those jobs back and make trade to be fair," Romney declared.
Ryan, too, accused the administration of failing to hold China accountable for its trade practices. During a morning appearance in northeastern Ohio at Youngstown State University, he told a crowd of about 1,400 that his hometown of Janesville, Wis., was much like theirs - a "blue-collar, factory town" where the struggles of the auto industry hit home hard.
Ryan said Obama had led the country toward a higher national debt, steeper taxes, and insufficient job growth.
"We can't keep going down this path," he said. "We can't keep accepting this is the new normal."
The congressman then hopscotched to Bowling Green State University, in the northwestern part of the state, where he grabbed a bratwurst with mustard at the college Republicans' tailgate party before the school's football team took on his alma mater, Ohio's Miami University.
The Obama campaign dismissed the Republicans' tough talk on China as nothing more than talk.
"Mitt Romney will never crack down on China's cheating - just look at his record," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. He said Romney had opposed Obama administration efforts to impose tariffs on Chinese-made tires and had invested in companies that shipped American jobs to China.
Obama's campaign upped its celebrity quotient as the two sides claw for any advantage in a tight race: Actor Morgan Freeman's commanding voice narrates a new ad telling voters that Obama has met the nation's challenges and "the last thing we should do is turn back now."
On Saturday night, Obama field director Jeremy Bird announced in an e-mail to supporters that the campaign has surpassed four million donors, a record for a presidential campaign. Obama's campaign has relied on small donors to boost its fund-raising totals through the summer and fall. The campaign raised $181 million in September, its biggest haul of the cycle.
Romney's campaign has not yet announced its September fund-raising numbers.
Both sides are devoting huge time and effort to Ohio, this year's battleground to end all battlegrounds, where polls show Obama with a slight edge over Romney. Saturday's emphasis by the two sides on the auto industry and manufacturing jobs was designed to connect with blue-collar voters there.
Both sides also are keenly aware of the importance of this year's series of three presidential debates. Romney's strong performance in the first debate on Oct. 3 gave his campaign a much-needed jolt of energy, and the GOP nominee said his campaign still had post-debate momentum over Obama.
"His campaign is about smaller and smaller things, and our campaign is about bigger and bigger crowds, fighting for a bright future," Romney said.
In Denver, police were reviewing video footage from city surveillance cameras after a shot was fired Friday afternoon through the window of Obama's campaign office. Police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez said that no one was injured and that she wasn't aware of any previous threats.
President Obama and Mitt Romney will debate in a town-meeting format moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. Location: Hofstra University in
On Oct. 22, there will be a foreign-policy debate moderated by CBS's Bob Schieffer. Location: Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Both debates start
at 9 p.m. and last