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Romney expands fight into Democratic areas

– Mitt Romney is suddenly plunging into traditionally Democratic-leaning Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and his GOP allies are trying to put Michigan into play. It’s forcing President Obama to defend his own turf – he’s pouring money into television ads in the states and dispatching top backers – in the campaign’s final week.

The question is: Why this Republican move?

GOP efforts in the trio of Rust Belt states could indicate that Romney is desperately searching for a last-minute path to the needed 270 Electoral College votes – without all-important Ohio. Or just the opposite, that he’s so confident in the most competitive battlegrounds that he’s pressing for insurance against Obama in what’s expected to be a close race.

Or perhaps the Republican simply has money to burn. Use it now or never.

Former President Bill Clinton was dispatched in response on Tuesday. “Barack Obama’s policies work better,” he declared on the University of Minnesota campus, one of his two stops in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.

This late-game expansion of a campaign playing field that, until now, had focused on just nine states was taking place exactly a week from Election Day. At the same time, Obama spent a second day in Washington to focus on his presidential duties and Romney edged back into active campaigning in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

“This is a tough time for millions of people ... but America is tougher,” the president said during a brief visit to the American Red Cross, where he sought to reassure victims, encourage aid workers – and warn of more storm damage to come with rising floodwater. In Ohio, Romney, too, spoke of concern for storm victims, telling supporters who were collecting supplies that “a lot of people hurting this morning.”

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