(Keith Srakocic ~ Associated Press)
Not even Republicans disputed that Obama's debate performance was much stronger than his listless showing two weeks earlier that helped spark a rise in the polls for Romney. The rivals meet one more time; Monday in Florida.
The first post-debate polls were divided, some saying Romney won, others finding Obama did.
Obama wore a pink wristband to show support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month as he campaigned in Iowa and then Ohio, and reminded his audiences that the first legislation he signed after becoming president made it easier for women to take pay grievances to court.
Romney took no position on that bill when it passed Congress, and his campaign says he would not seek its repeal. But Obama chided him, saying, "That shouldn't be a complicated question. Equal pay for equal work."
He also jabbed at Romney's remark during Tuesday night's debate that as Massachusetts governor, he received "whole binders full of women" after saying he wanted to appoint more of them to his administration. "We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented women," he said.
Obama spoke to a crowd of about 14,000 students and supporters at Ohio University, imploring them to vote early. "I want your vote. I am not too proud to beg. I want you to vote," he said.
"I've got two daughters and I don't want them paid less for the same job as a man," Obama said during his appearance at the Athens, Ohio, campus later Wednesday.
Romney's campaign launched a new television commercial that seemed designed to take the edge ever so slightly off his opposition to abortion -- another example of his October move toward the middle -- while urging women voters to keep pocketbook issues uppermost in their minds when they cast their ballots.
"In fact he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life," says a woman in the new ad. Pivoting quickly to economic matters, she adds, "But I'm more concerned about the debt our children will be left with. I voted for President Obama last time, but we just can't afford four more years."
That dovetailed with Romney's personal pitch to an audience in Chesapeake, Va.
"This president has failed American's women. They've suffered in terms of getting jobs," he declared, saying that 3.6 million more of them are in poverty now than when Obama took office.
Romney and the president are locked in an exceedingly close race as they shuttle from one critical state to another and dispatch surrogates ranging from former president Bill Clinton to ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to locations they cannot make on their own.
Obama appears on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes.
The remaining 110 electoral votes are divided among the hotly contested battleground states of Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).
There was little mystery in the candidates' concentration on women voters. An AP-GfK survey taken in mid-September, when Obama was leading in the opinion polls, found that 8 percent of all likely votes were women who were either undecided or said they might change their minds.
Vice President Joe Biden's first stop of the day was in Greeley, Colo., where he mocked Romney on the same topic but in terms more pungent than Obama's. "What I can't understand is how he's gotten into this sort of 1950s time warp in terms of women," Biden said. "The idea he had to go and ask where a qualified woman was. He just should have come to my house. He didn't need a binder."
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan was in Berea, Ohio, where he said women were suffering under the economy as the end of Obama's term nears. "Twenty-six million women are trapped in poverty today. That's the highest rate in 17 years," he said. "We need to get people back to work."
In a lighter moment, he stopped by the football practice facility of the Cleveland Browns and lamented missing out on hunting season.