President Obama and Mitt Romney on Thursday offered dueling addresses on the economy in the critical swing state of Ohio, providing the first real split-screen day of the general election.
Obama telegraphed the message that he’s the one who has the interests of the middle class at heart on the economy, while Romney railed at the president for being unable to lead an economic recovery.
The two speeches took place at roughly the same time, with Obama addressing a crowd of 1,500 people at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland and Romney speaking at the other end of the state, in Cincinnati.
In his address — the first of several “framing” speeches Obama will make in the coming weeks — the president said the upcoming election offers the American people a chance to decide between two distinctly different views on how to grow the economy, create jobs for the middle class and pay down the debt.
Obama sought to shift his argument from whether the economy needs to be fixed to how to fix it, and told voters it was up to them to break what he called a “stalemate” in Washington.
“The debate in this election is not about whether we need to grow faster or whether we need to create more jobs or whether we need to pay down our debt,” Obama said. “Of course the economy isn’t where it needs to be. Everybody knows that. The debate in this election is about how we grow faster, and how we create more jobs and how we pay our debt. That is the question facing the American voter.”
Romney, speaking at a Cincinnati factory, accused the president of delivering his speech on the economy “because he hasn’t been able to deliver a recovery on the economy.”
“Don’t forget, he’s been president for three and a half years,” Romney said. “Talk is cheap.”
Romney went on to urge those who would watch the president's speech to talk to their neighbors and friends about the economy to help evaluate Obama's arguments.
“Did President Obama's policies help put people back to work, or did they make it less likely for you to hire people?” Romney said, adding that he hears from employers "day in and day out that they feel this administration sees them as their enemy.”
“What he says and what he does are not always the exact same thing,” the former governor added.
In his 53-minute speech, the president urged voters to stick with him, saying the economy “started growing again six months after I took office and has continued to grow for the last three years.”
Obama sought to tie Romney to congressional Republicans and former President George W. Bush, who believe that by eliminating regulations and cutting taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will improve.
“They’ve promised to roll back regulations on banks and polluters,” Obama said. “They promised not only to keep all of the Bush tax cuts in place, but add another $5 trillion in taxes on top of that.
Obama said he believes that the economy grows from the middle class up and not from the top down, and emphasized an economic plan that will focus on education, energy, innovation and infrastructure and a tax code that creates jobs and pays down the debt in a balanced fashion.
The strategy of blaming Bush for the nation’s economic woes could resonate.
A Gallup Poll out on Thursday shows that 68 percent assign Bush a “great deal” or a “moderate amount” of the culpability for the country's floundering economy. At the same time, 52 percent of those surveyed cast blame on Obama, the poll indicated.
Obama aides say the speech in the battleground state was part of a larger plan to “take the argument directly to” the Romney campaign.
Obama has endured a miserable few weeks, including the Democrats’ defeat in the Wisconsin recall election of GOP Gov. Scott Walker and a self-inflicted gaffe last Friday, in 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. And Democrats this week attempted to get Obama to change tacks on his reelection campaign, saying his message is not resonating with voters.
This week, Democratic strategists Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert said in a memo that Obama’s strategy telling the electorate that the economy is moving in the right direction “will fail.”
“These voters are not convinced that we are headed in the right direction,” the three strategists said. “They actually have a very realistic view of the long road back and the struggles of the middle class, and the current narrative about progress just misses the opportunity to connect and point forward.”
But Obama, who acknowledged his own recent gaffe during his address, sought to go on the offensive — something he has done before when he has hit turbulent times.
“This election will take many twists and many turns,” Obama said. “Polls will go up and polls will go down. There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies that keep both campaigns busy and give the press something to write about.
“You may have heard I recently made my own unique contribution to that process. It wasn’t the first time,” he added. “It won’t be the last.”