President Barack Obama suspends the levity during an interview with late-night TV talk show host Jay Leno to address a Republican Senate candidate’s assertion that pregnancies resulting from rape are intended by God and to express confidence that Washington could soon address the looming ‘‘fiscal cliff’’.
‘‘I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas. Let me make a very simple proposition: rape is rape. It is a crime,’’ Obama said on NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’.
‘‘This is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s healthcare.’’
Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comments that pregnancies caused by rape are ‘‘something God intended to happen’’ echoed across the US media and sent ripples through political circles ahead of the November 6 election.
The Obama campaign, which enjoys leads among women voters in many election battleground states, sought swiftly to connect Mourdock with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
This summer Romney had to distance himself from remarks by another Republican Senate candidate, Todd Akin of Missouri, about what he called ‘‘legitimate rape’’.
In an interview full of jokes about marriage, Halloween and other topics, the Democratic president made a few serious comments, mostly about the hottest topic of the election: the economy.
Asked about the so-called fiscal cliff - a combination of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes set to kick in early next year - Obama said he was confident that a solution could be found before the end of the year.
‘‘Solving this is not that hard. It requires some tough choices,’’ Obama said, adding that some programmes had to be cut and tax rates should go up for people making more than $250,000 a year.
‘‘I hope that we can get it done by the end of this year. It just requires some compromise, which shouldn’t be a dirty word.’’
On the economic crisis gripping the European Union, Obama said countries have been ‘‘kind of muddling along’’ and ‘‘they didn’t respond as quickly as they could’’.
The United States is working with those nations to make sure they have a credible plan to maintain the unity of Europe, he added.
In a lighter moment, Obama joked about real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump, who recently posted a video challenging Obama to release documents about his education.
Trump has persistently questioned whether Obama, a native of Hawaii, was actually born in the United States, and Obama played off Trump’s theories about his origins.
‘‘This all dates back to when we were growing up together in Kenya,’’ Obama joked.
‘‘We had, you know, constant run-ins on the soccer field. He wasn’t very good and resented it.’’
FAMED REPUBLICAN BACKING
Obama won the endorsement of retired General Colin Powell, a moderate Republican, on Thursday as he and Republican rival Mitt Romney engaged in frantic campaigning in battleground states to try to turn a razor-close race their way.
Hoping to encourage other Democrats to vote ahead of the November 6 election, Obama cast his ballot early in his home town of Chicago.
Romney portrayed himself as an agent of change during a day campaigning in Ohio with 12 days to go until the election.
There was little movement in the overall state of the race - which is essentially tied.
Romney was clinging to a one percentage point lead over Obama in Thursday’s Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll, up 47 per cent to 46 per cent for Obama.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll showed how Romney has made up ground since defeating Obama in the first of their three presidential debates on October 3.
The poll had Romney up by 50 per cent to 47 per cent among likely voters.
Romney charged that electing Obama would return Washington to a ‘‘status-quo path,’’ a path that ‘‘doesn’t have an answer about how to get the economy going’’.
‘‘The path we’re on does not have new answers,’’ said Romney, whose campaign has been centered around ways to create jobs in the sputtering economy.
Powell’s endorsement was a milestone for the president in his re-election bid, but since he had backed Obama four years ago, it did not have the same impact this time around.
Powell was a secretary of state during the presidency of Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
He told CBS he is sticking with Obama because the economy is improving.
‘‘The unemployment rate is too high. People are still hurting in housing. But I see that we are starting to rise up,’’ he said.
Obama has generated large crowds during a two-day, eight-state tour that is taking him to Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Ohio, California, Illinois and Virginia.
Some 8500 people showed up for an early morning rally in Tampa, Florida on Thursday and some 15,000 came out for the president in Richmond, Virginia.
The president has sought to rev up enthusiasm and momentum in those crowds by talking about his cross-country trip.
‘‘We are right in the middle of our 48-hour fly-around campaign extravaganza,’’ he said to applause in Florida.
‘‘We pulled an all-nighter last night!‘‘
The election will likely be decided in a handful of swing states where the candidates are spending just about all of their time, with none of them more important than Ohio.
The two campaigns squabbled over who has the upper hand in Ohio, where the race is close.
Democrats believe they have the edge in early voting and turn-out operation, but Republicans disagree.
‘‘A steady upward trajectory among key voting blocs indicates a close race, but one that is unmistakably moving in Mitt Romney’s direction,’’ said Romney national political director Rich Beeson.
The Romney campaign made clear it would have enough money to fund television advertising in the swing states by announcing his campaign had brought in more than US$111 million from October 1 to October 17.
The Romney campaign and its Republican allies reported having US$169 million cash on hand for the final push.