Mitt Romney escalated his assault on Barack Obama, charging the president with failing to fulfill the campaign promises he made four years ago, as Obama warned that Republicans would “gut” support for federal programs such as education to finance tax cuts for the wealthy.
The dueling swing-state speeches -- Obama’s in Elyria, Ohio, and Romney’s in Charlotte, North Carolina -- came as the president and his Republican challenger work to sharpen their campaign messages in the early weeks of the general election.
Standing in front of the Bank of America stadium where Obama will formally accept his party’s nomination in September, Romney rattled off statements Obama made as a candidate at his party’s convention four years ago, saying nothing the president has done during his time in the White House has created jobs.
“We’re a trusting people,” Romney said. “We’re a hopeful people, but we’re not dumb and we’re not going to fall for the same lines from the same person just because we’re in a different place.”
Speaking at a lectern emblazed with the words “Obama Isn’t Working,” Romney told a crowd of about 200 that the country’s economy has worsened and federal debt has skyrocketed on the president’s watch. He cited lost jobs, the doubling of gasoline prices, a decline in home values, and increases in health-care and tuition costs.
‘Over His Head’
Obama is “over his head and he’s swimming in the wrong direction,” Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said.
“He set the measure; he has failed by the measurements he’s set,” Romney said. “You won’t hear that at this convention, but you’ll hear it at ours.”
The speech, which Romney aides billed as a “prebuttal” to Obama’s convention address, marked the start of a strategy of matching the president’s appearances across the country with his own events. The tactic is an effort to force a more direct confrontation with the Obama campaign and counter the messaging advantage the White House offers a sitting president.
Registered voters were evenly split between Obama and Romney, with each candidate getting 46 percent support nationally, in a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted April 13-17, according to the Times. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Tomorrow, Romney will speak at a shuttered National Gypsum Co. drywall factory in Lorain, Ohio. The facility closed weeks after then-candidate Obama spoke there in February 2008, while George W. Bush was president.
Speaking in Ohio today, Obama told a group of unemployed workers getting trained at a community college that they face a choice in November between steady federal support for education and deep reductions in such programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Obama combined his re-election campaign themes with a pitch for government funding for job training and research, saying “these investments aren’t part of some grand scheme to redistribute wealth.” Republicans, he said, propose to “gut” the budget to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.
“We have two competing visions of our future,” Obama told an audience at the community college in Elyria, which gets federal funds for job training. “We keep having the same argument with folks who don’t seem to remember how America was built.” The trip was his second as president to Lorain County Community College and his 20th to the state.
Obama is framing his re-election argument on “fairness” and who would better look out for the interests of middle-income Americans.
While he never mentioned Romney by name today, he indirectly drew a contrast with his probable opponent, who helped form the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC in Boston and is the son of a former auto industry executive.
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Obama said. “Michelle wasn’t, but someone gave us a chance.”
Obama later traveled to Romney’s native state, Michigan, for a pair of fundraisers, with his first stop at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where approximately 600 guests paid $250 to hear the president speak, according to a campaign official.
“The American auto industry is back, and that’s because of you,” Obama told his audience at the museum. He acknowledged that the economic recovery has left some families struggling. “There are still too many people who are having a hard time pay their bills,” he said.
Later, the president headlined a more expensive event at a private residence in Bingham Farm for 47 donors who contributed $10,000 each to his re-election organizations, the official said, requesting anonymity.
The economy will be the dominant issue for the November election. The U.S. unemployment rate is above 8 percent and rising energy costs have squeezed the budgets of voters.
Ohio, with 18 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, has been hit hard by the decline in U.S. manufacturing, losing 556,700 jobs, or 10 percent, from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only Michigan lost a higher percentage during that period, federal data show.
Ohio’s economy has been improving since then, adding 91,100 jobs since December 2010 through February 2012, the fourth-most in the U.S. during that time, data show. The state led the nation in February with 28,300 new jobs, according to the Labor Department.
Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent in February from 7.7 percent in January, compared with a national 8.3 percent in February. It ranked seventh among all states in its economic recovery in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared with the previous year, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.
Obama carried Ohio with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2008, after Republican George W. Bush won the state in 2000 and 2004.
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