President Barack Obama and rival Mitt Romney stoked the embers of their smoldering debate, flinging new blows in the hotly contested territory that will decide who wins the White House.
Twenty days from election day, and with the political world reverberating from one of the most contentious presidential debates in history, the two men charged onto the campaign trail in search of women voters and independents who could propel them to victory.
Obama accused Romney of offering a "sketchy deal" by failing to explain how he would pay for big tax and deficit cuts, warning that politicians who wait to get elected before giving specifics land voters with a nasty surprise.
"We're not buying it," Obama told a crowd in Ohio, one of the grand battleground states. "We know better, because this is the same sketchy deal that we were sold back in the previous administration."
The 51-year-old Obama, in a tongue-in-cheek aside, implicitly admitted his intense debate showing was a big improvement on a listless performance in the first showdown two weeks ago.
"I'm still trying to figure out how to get the hang of this thing, debating, but we're working on it. We'll keep on improving as time goes on. I've got one left," he said, referring to Monday's foreign policy donnybrook in Florida.
US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign event at Ohio University October 17, in Athens, Ohio. Obama and rival Mitt Romney stoked the embers of their smoldering debate, flinging new blows in the hotly contested territory that will decide who wins the White House.
Romney, a multi-millionaire ex-governor of Massachusetts, also professed to being pumped up after the clash, in which the two men went toe-to-toe and roamed the stage, at times seeming to stop just short of a physical confrontation.
"I love these debates. You know, these things are great. And I think it's interesting the president still doesn't have an agenda for a second term," Romney said in Virginia, another key toss-up state.
"Don't you think that it's time for him to finally put together a vision of what he'd do in the next four years if he were elected?" he asked.
Romney blasted Obama as a slick salesman who talked a good game four years ago but has left the country in dire shape.
"The president's policies are running on fumes," he boomed to more than 8,000 people at a rally in Leesburg, where one man held up a "Democrats 4 Romney" sign.
Obama picked up on a curious theme that took hold Wednesday, mocking Romney for telling the 65 million people watching the debate on television that he combed through "binders full of women" while recruiting females for his cabinet when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Obama used the oddball phrase to torch Romney over women's health care and equal pay, while highlighting his own record on women's rights and the need to boost teachers in math and science.
"We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women, ready to learn and teach in these fields right now," Obama told a crowd in a muggy gym at a liberal arts college in Iowa, which paired with other battlegrounds like Ohio and Nevada could pave a return route to the White House.
Romney himself wasted no time in appealing to women who could make the difference in swing states, after a spirited debate dispute with Obama on women's rights and health care.
"This president has failed America's women," he told supporters.
A fresh Gallup daily tracking poll showed Romney up six points among likely voters in his best showing yet, suggesting Obama's strong rebound after the first debate came just in the nick of time for his supporters.
A new survey by Marquette University, of traditionally Democratic Wisconsin, showed Obama up by a single point there.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney seized on rows left smoldering from their angry debate Wednesday, flinging new blows in the hotly contested territory that will decide who wins the White House. Duration:00:59
Neither poll included data reflecting the impact of Tuesday's debate, but with the respected RealClearPolitics average of polls showing just a 0.4 percent lead for Romney, strategists from both campaigns acknowledged that the November 6 election could be agonizingly close.
"I am not too proud to beg. I want you to vote," Obama said in Athens.
The political class was still digesting the repercussions of the latest bitterly contested head-to-head, which included questions from undecided voters.
Ad hoc polls from major broadcasters gave Obama the edge, while analysts agreed that the Romney surge had hit a speed bump, leaving the race closely matched.
As Obama spent a few hours in Iowa on Wednesday, 13 people took out a full-page ad in the Des Moines Register announcing their apology for voting for him four years ago and their intent to pull the lever for Romney in November.
Obama "has offered disappointment after disappointment," they wrote. "It turns out that eloquence does not equal competence. We'll gladly admit: we were wrong."
The 13 people were named in the ad, which was paid for by the Romney campaign.