By Justin Sink - 11/02/12 04:12 PM EDT
Mitt Romney made the closing argument of his campaign on Friday at a speech in Milwaukee, sharply criticizing President Obama as having "fallen so very short" of fixing the economy.
"The question of this election comes down to this: Do you want more of the same or do you want real change?" Romney asked. "President Obama promised change, but he could not deliver it. I promise change, and I have a record of achieving it."
Just four days out from the presidential election, Romney took a tough tone with his rival, repeatedly hitting Obama's record.
"I won't waste any time complaining about my predecessor," Romney said. "I won't spend my effort trying to pass partisan legislation unrelated to economic growth. From Day One, I will go to work to help Americans get back to work."
Romney described hiring as "stagnant" hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the economy had added 171,000 jobs in October, beating expectations. But with more unemployed Americans looking for work, the unemployment rate ticked up — from 7.8 to 7.9 percent — a fact Romney seized on.
"Think of that — unemployment today is higher than the day when Barack Obama took office," Romney said.
Meanwhile, Obama touted the "real progress" the economy made under his tenure during a campaign stop in Oho.
“We’ve made real progress, but we are here today because we know we’ve got more work to do,” Obama told the boisterous crowd. “As long as there’s a single American who wants a job and can’t find one, as long as there are families working harder but falling behind, as long as there’s a child anywhere in this country who's languishing in poverty and barred from opportunity, our fight goes on. We’ve got more work to do.”
While the White House emphasized that the economy had added 5.4 million jobs since the depths of the recession, Romney argued the president's policies — and strained relationship with Republicans — have prevented a more robust recovery.
"You know that if the president is reelected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress. He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them," Romney said.
Romney argued that the combative relationship would prevent Obama from successfully negotiating a resolution to the looming "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and budget cuts without inflicting additional harm onto the economy. He positioned himself as the candidate better able to break through the partisan gridlock. And the Republican presidential candidate warned that "unless we change course, we may be looking at another recession."
"The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy," Romney said. "The president was right when he said he can’t change Washington from the inside. In this case, you can take him at his word."
Romney's bipartisan credentials have been a theme he has hammered of late in television commercials on the campaign trail, and one of the few metrics where polls show him significantly outpacing the president. An Associated Press poll released Thursday showed Romney leading Obama 47 percent to 37 percent when asked who would be the best candidate to foster bipartisan cooperation.
And Romney gave new details on different points of his economic plan, saying he would float a "Worker Retraining Reform Act" and a "Downpayment on Fiscal Sanity Act" upon entering the White House.
The Obama campaign charged that Romney will "say or do anything to win."
“In his second ‘closing argument’ in one week, Mitt Romney laughably pledged that he would bring ‘real change’ if he’s elected. We know that’s not true: All Mitt Romney would do is bring back the failed policies of the past that crashed the economy and punished the middle class in the first place," said spokeswoman Lis Smith in a statement.
Romney also emphasized another primary theme of the closing weeks of the campaign: the idea that his candidacy is the one with the momentum, and that a late surge will help him overcome polls showing him still a few points back in crucial battleground states.
"I have watched over these last few months as our campaign has gathered the strength of a movement," Romney said. "It’s not just the size of the crowds, it’s the depth of our shared conviction, the readiness for new possibilities, the sense that the challenges are clear and our work will soon begin. It has made me strive even more to be worthy of the office, to campaign as I would govern, to speak for the aspirations of all Americans."
That image of momentum will be crucial for Romney in states like Wisconsin, where he spoke Friday morning. A poll released by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal earlier this week showed the president with a 3-point lead there, and Romney has not led a public poll in the state since August.
But Romney was looking to lean on the bourgeoning Republican establishment in the state, with Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus, who is a native son of the state, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) among those who introduced him. Romney also took time to shout out to his running mate, another native.
"Next to Ann Romney, Paul Ryan is the best choice I ever made," Romney said.
Romney also packed the speech with some red meat for his most fervent supporters, repeatedly casting Obama as unwilling to own up to his economic record.
"I’m not just going to take office on Jan. 20 — I’m going to take responsibility for that office as well," Romney said, later adding that the president was only "offering excuses."
"I've got a plan," Romney continued. "He's hoping we'll settle. I can't wait for us to get started."
The address culminated in Romney's proclamation that "the door to a brighter future is there, open, waiting for us," but that he needed voters to "walk with me." It will be that sale that is crucial for Romney to make in the waning days of the campaign, and one that he will look to make in an aggressive push through the battleground states. From Wisconsin, Romney heads to an afternoon rally in Etna, Ohio, with a subsequent rally with his running mate and what is expected to be a large gathering of top Republican names in West Chester, Ohio.
— Amie Parnes contributed to this report.