Obama, Romney bring 'clash of candidates' to swing-state Ohio
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney dueled Thursday from opposite ends of Ohio, a state vital to their November chances, framing the election as a choice between failure and economic progress.
The Washington Post
CLEVELAND — President Obama said Thursday that he and opponent Mitt Romney offer radically different, irreconcilable visions of how to lead the nation back to prosperity, saying it is up to voters to "break that stalemate."
The president's speech in Cleveland represented an effort to regain his footing and reframe his argument for re-election after two weeks of dismal economic and political news.
Obama also offered the most vigorous defense of his presidency to date, one that included many actions — including investments in schools, energy and infrastructure — that he said have strengthened the middle class and fostered economic growth.
After what his aides billed as a major address, the Obama campaign flooded supporters with statements from some two dozen surrogates hailing the speech for its insights, part of an effort to curb Democratic dissent and help Obama set the agenda for days to come.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did not cede the stage in Ohio. The presumed Republican nominee scheduled his own remarks at a Cincinnati factory so that they would come shortly before Obama's, to serve as a prebuttal. And at the site of the president's speech at Cuyahoga Community College, a Romney campaign bus circled the event, honking, while a few dozen protesters milled on street corners nearby.
The backdrop was significant. Ohio, with its 18 electoral votes, looms large in the strategic calculations of both campaigns, especially the Romney side. No Republican has won the White House without carrying the state; polls suggest the contest in Ohio, which has been barraged with more TV advertising than practically any other state, is exceedingly close.
Obama's speech illustrated how much circumstances have changed for him since he won the presidency in 2008 on a promise of hope and change. The national mood this time around is one of disillusionment, with the pace of the economic recovery and with the federal government's dysfunction.
"The only thing that can break that stalemate is you," Obama said. "What's lacking is not the capacity to meet our challenges. What is lacking is our politics. And that's something entirely within your power to solve."
Where Obama ran four years ago as an inspirational figure who could rise above partisanship, his argument Thursday suggested there is no area of common ground between his approach to governing and Romney's.
"This election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions of how to create strong, sustained growth, how to pay down our long-term debt, and most of all how to generate good, middle-class jobs so people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead," Obama said.
As in the past, Obama blamed the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, for digging and deepening the hole in which the economy remains, and Republican obstructionism for the lack of progress in digging out of it.
Romney, he said, would take the country back to Bush's approach, by cutting taxes for the wealthy, strangling investment in the future and lifting regulations. The result, he said, would be cutbacks in popular programs such as college loans, medical research and early-childhood education; repeal of the new health-care law, and the transformation of Medicare into a voucher program.
"This is their economic plan. It has been placed before Congress," Obama said, tying Romney to that unpopular institution. "If they win the election, their agenda will be simple and straightforward; they have spelled it out."
His own proposal, he added, is to increase investments in education and training, to encourage alternatives to oil, and to put more money in research and infrastructure.
The president, who was hammered by Republicans last week for his statement that the private sector was doing fine, acknowledged the difficult environment.
"There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies that keep both campaigns busy and give the press something to write about," he said. "You may have heard I recently made my own unique contribution to that process. It wasn't the first time; it won't be the last."
"Talk is cheap"
Romney dismissed Obama's address even before it was delivered, calling it a substitute for results.
"You may have heard that President Obama is on the other side of the state and he's going to be delivering a speech on the economy. He's doing that because he hasn't delivered a recovery for the economy," Romney said. "And he's going to be a person of eloquence as he describes his plans for making the economy better, but don't forget he's been president for 3 1/2 years, and talk is cheap. Actions speak very loud."
Romney added that Obama's policies have "made it harder for entrepreneurs to start a business, has made it less likely for businesses like this to hire more people."
Romney renewed his vows to expand oil, coal and gas exploration, repeal the health-care law and cut the deficit, though he offered few specifics.
Speaking in front of a banner that read "Putting Jobs First," a recent mantra of his campaign, Romney also seized on Obama's slogan — "Forward" — and cited the increase in the federal debt and asked: "You want four more years of that? You call that forward? That's forward over a cliff. That's forward on the way to Greece."
The dueling speeches came at a moment of high anxiety for Obama's Democratic allies, who have lost some of their confidence in the president's ability to vanquish what many had once regarded as a weak Republican opponent.
Some have urged a major overhaul of the president's message, one less focused on Bush's record and more attuned to the economic pain that Americans continue to feel.
And while many of his lines brought cheers from the estimated crowd of 1,500, Obama said, "I want to speak to everybody who is watching who may not be a supporter, may be undecided or thinking about voting the other way. ... If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney. ... You should vote for his allies in Congress. You should take them for their word."
Material from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.