President Barack Obama turned his rival's name into an ailment on Friday, accusing Mitt Romney of suffering from "Romnesia" for emphasising moderate positions rather than the conservative ones he put forward in the Republican primary race.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has closed a gap in opinion polls with the Democratic incumbent after giving a strong performance in the first presidential debate on October 3, when he sounded a moderate note on healthcare reform and the need for government regulation – highlights of Obama's platform.
After a lacklustre showing in that debate, the president has delivered fiery retorts since, both in the second debate on October 16, which many observers say Obama won, and on the campaign trail.
Obama told a crowd of about 9 000 in the battleground state of Virginia that Romney was backtracking on his conservative-leaning promises.
"He's forgetting what his own positions are, and he's betting that you will, too. I mean, he's changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping, we've gotta … name this condition that he's going through," Obama said.
"I think it's called Romnesia," he said to hoots and applause from the crowd.
Although Obama has lost his large lead in polls in several swing states since the first debate, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll issued on Friday showed the Democrat ahead in Iowa by 8% points and in Wisconsin by six points.
But a PPP survey showed Romney ahead by one point in Iowa, as polls gave few certainties to the outcomes of the race beyond pointing to a likely tight finish.
A CNN/ORC International poll conducted after the second presidential debate showed 49% of likely voters in the battleground state of Florida supporting Romney and 48% supporting Obama.
The Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama ahead by three points much of this week. The Democrat was again on top by 46% to 43% in Friday's version of the online poll.
In an election mainly driven by the economy, new state unemployment data issued on Friday could provide momentum for Obama in some of the most important battleground states on November 6.
Unemployment fell in September in swing states such as Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Iowa.
The data showed the jobless rate in Virginia held steady at 5.9% for a third straight month.
At the rally in a northern Virginia suburb of Washington, Obama took his riff on amnesia to great length, describing "symptoms" that coincided with Romney's positions on abortion and taxes for the wealthy.
"If you say you'll protect a woman's right to choose, but you stand up at a primary debate and said that you'd be delighted to sign a law outlawing … that right to choose in all cases – man, you've definitely got Romnesia," he said.
"If you say earlier in the year you're going to give tax cuts for the top 1%, and then in a debate you say, 'I don't know anything about giving tax cuts to rich folks,' you need to get a thermometer, take your temperature, because you've probably got Romnesia."
The president also said his 2010 healthcare restructuring, which Republicans have dubbed "Obamacare" and deride as a government takeover of the $2.8-trillion US health system, was the cure for "Romnesia."
Romney's campaign shot back that Obama, who has focused a lot of attention on women voters since the debate, had promoted policies that hurt women particularly.
"Women haven't forgotten how we've suffered over the last four years in the Obama economy with higher taxes, higher unemployment, and record levels of poverty," Virginia lawmaker Barbara Comstock said in a statement sent by the campaign.
"President Obama has failed to put forward a second-term agenda – and when you don't have a plan to run on, you stoop to scare tactics," she said.
It is not the first time Obama has used a distorted version of his opponent's name to try to score political points and energise his liberal base. He has used the attack line "Romney Hood" to deride his rival's tax proposals, essentially saying they would rob ordinary Americans to help the rich.
Obama's diagnosis for what he said was Romney's chronic condition of "backtracking" became a catch-phrase that lit up social media sites on Friday. The Obama campaign seized on the viral response and "Romnesia" became a trending line on Twitter.
The new rift to describe flip-flopping was not a term the Obama campaign team initially coined. The phrase "Romnesia" appeared on Facebook to mock the Republican presidential nominee and has been used by liberal blogs and newspaper columnists.
Obama later returned to the White House before departing for the presidential retreat Camp David, where he will huddle with advisers David Plouffe, David Axelrod and others to prepare for the October 22 presidential debate on foreign policy.
Romney arrived in Florida, where he will spend the weekend preparing for that final debate with members of his brain trust, including US Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and senior adviser Stuart Stevens.