For the candidates, the two-month sprint to Nov. 6 promises a high-stakes mix of debates, multiple appearances in a dozen battleground states and hours of campaign speeches.
"Thus far, the (President) Obama side has done some very negative ads and attacks, and I think it's gotten to the point where it's backfired, and they're stepping back from it," says Calabrese, who believes Mitt Romney will focus on the economy.
"I suspect you'll hear the Romney campaign talk about the past four years and the state of the economy, and I think you'll hear the Obama campaign talk about anything but the economy over the past four years," adds Calabrese.
Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Len Lenihan believes the economy will be a hot button issue.
"Mitt Romney's made it clear, he wants to go back to the Bush tax cuts where we had huge deficits, while we expect to see Obama build from the middle class out, with investments strategies for education, and higher taxes for those in the highest income tax brackets," notes Lenihan. "What it comes down to is Obama says a balanced approach is needed."
Lenihan believes Obama just needs to stay the course, and reduce expenses when possible, and only get revenue increases from the one percent. Calabrese says the race will come down to which campaign can motivate its base more, with Romney purusing the independent voters.
(AP) On the same night Democrats conclude their national convention, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has released plans to launch a television advertising campaign across eight swing states.
Officials who track such spending report that Romney has purchased about $4.5 million in new advertising for the next several days.
Romney announced the new ad campaign Thursday night shortly after President Barack Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.
The commercials suggest that Americans are not better off after nearly four years of Obama's leadership. They link Obama to high foreclosure rates, defense cuts, government regulations and the national deficit.
To press his case , Obama will frequently deploy his chief attack dog, Vice President Joe Biden, and his attack dog emeritus, former President Bill Clinton. Both will spend the next two months ripping into Romney, and traveling extensively in states where they can help boost the president's standing with white working-class voters, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Since Romney locked up the nomination in April, Obama's team has tried to portray him as a ruthless businessman to a public whom they argue has been hardened by the near economic collapse of 2008. Obama's campaign has pressed Romney to release several years' worth of tax returns, noting that returns he did release showed the ownership of a Swiss bank account and investments in the Cayman Islands, home to common tax shelters. At rallies, the president portrays Romney as someone who would ram through tax cuts for the super wealthy at the expense of the middle class. And Obama's allies have cast Romney as an outsourcer of jobs.
Obama also will dispatch his popular wife, Michelle Obama, to key states as he looks to remind voters of why many voted for him in the past - they like him - and assure them that he can relate to the struggles they face.
With a race this tight, Obama himself isn't likely to let up on Romney.
Expect to hear the president draw stark differences with the Republican on issues important to Obama's core constituencies by emphasizing his first-term successes as he looks to win support at the margins.
For now, the contest centers on the seven states where surveys show neither side has a significant advantage: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia. Obama won them all four years ago, and he's banking on his expansive voter registration and get-out-the-vote operation - bolstered by information technology and social media - to make up for Romney and his Republican allies' significant cash advantage on TV. Obama has some ground to make up in North Carolina, where he held his convention.
"It's a turnout election. We've got to make sure the people who support the president's plan are participating," said David Leland, a former Ohio Democratic party chairman.
Democrats argue that the election will come down to three states: Ohio, Florida and Virginia. Of those, Democrats are most optimistic about Ohio, where the economy is improving and the auto bailout is popular. In Virginia, they're hopeful that minorities will turn out in force again as they did four years go. Florida is the one that makes Democrats the most nervous.
To tip the balance in those states and others, Obama's team will offer anew a steady string of warnings about Romney.
"We're going to be aggressive about telling the story of this administration, telling the truth about what this president has accomplished, but also telling the truth about Mitt Romney's plans and what they would do to this country," said deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.
Romney's campaign says it will run 15 separate ads spread across Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.