Cleveland: President Barack Obama cast his re-election race against likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney as the choice of a lifetime, asking Americans to buy into his vision for four more years or face a return to the recession-era “mistakes of the past.”
From opposite ends of Ohio, a state vital to both of their political futures, Romney and Obama dueled Thursday in economic speeches that set the tone for the final five months of debate. The pitches were the political foes’ familiar, fundamentally different takes on how get to the economy soaring again.
“That’s what is at stake right now,” Obama said in his most detailed case for a second term. “Everything else is just noise.”
Romney went first from Cincinnati, a Republican stronghold in the state, and he described Obama’s administration as the very “enemy” of the people who create jobs.
“If you think the president’s right when he said the private sector is doing fine, then he’s the guy to vote for,” Romney said. But he questioned why anyone would do that, saying if the job isn’t getting done, pick “someone who can do a better job.”
The backdrop was Ohio, seen by political strategists as a state that could swing the election.
It went to Obama last time, and George W Bush before that, and it remains crucial for both competitors this year — particularly Romney. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.
Romney gave what amounted to his standard speech, albeit realigned as a prebuttal as Obama was pulling into his event site at the top of the state. Given the tight presidential race and the enormous interest in the economy, the two speeches offered anticipation of a big campaign moment, but the substance yielded little new.
Romney castigated the president for the economic stimulus, the health care reform law and for not approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Romney also criticized the president’s policies toward China and said that, if elected, he would label the country as a currency manipulator.
Obama’s team closely monitored Romney’s event in Ohio. “Threatening to label China a currency manipulator is reckless and unnecessary,” Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement after Romney’s speech. She called Romney’s positions on China a “campaign-year conversion.”
The campaign appearances mark the first time Obama and Romney have taken their message to the same state on the same day. Ohio is key to the election hopes of both candidates. With less than five months remaining until the Nov. 6 election, they are virtually tied in the polls.
New reports on the economy Thursday brought little optimism, with weekly applications for unemployment aid inching up and a broad measure of trade, the US current account trade deficit, widening in the first three months of the year for the largest imbalance since late 2008.
Under the US election system, presidents are chosen in state-by-state contests. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying heavily populated Ohio, which, unlike most other states, is neither predictably Republican nor Democratic. Obama won Ohio by 5 percentage points in 2008, but the Republicans stormed back two years later with sweeping victories in the state gubernatorial and congressional races.
Obama’s visit, his 22nd to Ohio as president, comes as once-confident Democrats are increasingly worried he could lose the November election. It follows a difficult two weeks for the president, including a dismal report on the jobless rate rising to 8.2 percent, a Democratic defeat in a rare governor recall election in Wisconsin and an impressive fundraising month for Romney and Republicans, who surged ahead of Obama and the Democrats for the first time.
In addition, the Federal Reserve this week released data showing that the median family net worth shrank to levels not seen since 1992 between 2007 and 2010.
The Obama campaign may take heart, however, from a Gallup poll released Thursday saying 68 percent of Americans surveyed still said former President Bush was to blame for the economic problems engulfing the United States.
On Thursday evening, the president and first lady Michelle Obama made a rare joint fundraising appearance at the home of actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. The intimate dinner banked about $2 million, with 50 people paying $40,000 each.