By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink - 06/14/12 09:42 AM EDT
President Obama has picked the key swing state of Ohio to deliver a speech Thursday he hopes will serve as a reset button for a campaign that has begun to struggle.
Obama and his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, will converge on the state at dueling campaign events set to take place within an hour of each other.
Ohio is a crucial battleground for both candidates but particularly for Romney, who on Wednesday aggressively sought to prevent Obama from going on the offensive after the president’s recent stumbles.
Obama’s speech — which will take place at the Cuyahoga Community College Recreation Center in Cleveland — is expected to frame the campaign and set the tone for the comings months, aides say.
“He will crystallize the argument as to what this campaign is about,” said one Obama aide, adding that Obama is expected to reiterate the need to boost the public sector and put firefighters, police officers and teachers back to work.
Obama will also cast Romney’s policies as a return to the years of former President George W. Bush, which Obama’s team says would include “more budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy and fewer rules for Wall Street.”
Aides say Obama will say that the election offers the American people a chance to break the stalemate between two distinctly different views on how to grow the economy, create jobs for the middle class, and pay down the debt. Obama is also expected to say that Romney and Republicans in Congress believe that eliminating regulations and cutting taxes by trillions of dollars, that the market will improve.
Obama on the other hand believes that the economy grows from the middle class up and not from the top down and has an economic plan that will focus on education, energy, innovation, infrastructure, and a tax code that creates jobs and pays down the debt in a balanced fashion.
Obama will appear before a backdrop of American flags and address a small crowd, rather than a large arena. “We’ll take the argument directly to them,” said one aide.
Obama has endured a miserable few weeks, including Democrats’ defeat in the Wisconsin recall election of GOP Gov. Scott Walker, and a self-inflicted gaffe on Friday, which Obama said the private-sector economy was “doing fine.”
Republicans have ridiculed the remark, which came just a week after a report found the economy added only 69,000 jobs in May.
On Wednesday, Romney aides took turns hammering the president. On a call with reporters, Russ Schriefer, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, repeatedly characterized Obama’s speech as an attempt to “pivot.”
“Gov. Romney is not going to have to pivot every few weeks to talk about jobs — it’s going to be his agenda from day one,” Schriefer added.
Yet the full-throated effort to “prebut” the president’s speech seemed born partly of an anxiety that the Democrats were gaining steam with attacks on a comment Romney made while stumping Friday in Iowa.
“He [Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” Romney told supporters. “Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
While Romney’s comment was overshadowed by Obama’s gaffe, Democrats seized on the assertion, cutting their own series of commercials featuring firemen and teachers arguing that Romney would cut back on vital services.
That drew new questions for Romney, even in the normally friendly confines of Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” morning show, where on Tuesday the GOP candidate was forced to defend his comments by arguing the federal government is not responsible for the hiring of teachers and first responders.
“That’s a very strange accusation. Of course, teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states,” Romney said. “The federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen. So obviously that’s completely absurd.”
But critics quickly pointed out that while state and local governments are responsible for paying the salaries of those public-sector employees, the federal government can help subsidize their costs through grants like those proposed by the president.
In Thursday’s speech, Obama is expected to ramp up attacks on congressional Republicans, whom he claims have obstructed his agenda and would work with Romney to bring the country back to the policies of the George W. Bush administration.
He will have a tangible case-in-point when Romney makes a return trip to Ohio on Sunday to appear alongside Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), a former small-business owner who is expected to highlight his and Romney’s shared experiences creating jobs in the private sector.
A GOP aide said Boehner believes Romney “has an agenda that can get our economy back on track.”
But observers say the appearance could underline Obama’s point.
“In some ways the Romney-Boehner appearance does strengthen Obama’s argument,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “And it does increase the perception that Romney and the Republican Congress are pretty tight.
“But Ohio is Boehner country, and it does make sense for Romney to use that connection to his benefit.”
And the candidates are likely looking for any advantage they can get in the pivotal Buckeye State.
“There’s no state more important than Ohio,” Schriefer said.