By Amie Parnes - 04/18/12 08:21 PM EDT
With general-election campaigns gearing up, President Obama on Wednesday aimed to craft a sharp contrast between himself and his likely GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, telling an Ohio crowd, “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.”
Speaking before a backdrop of community college students — while trying to tout his efforts to help job seekers find work — Obama sought to empathize with the working-class audience.
During the 20-minute speech in the blue-collar town, Obama accused Republicans of having the “wrong” theory when it comes to helping the economy. He never mentioned his would-be opponent Romney by name in the address but he swiped at Republicans in Washington “and even the ones running for president” for proposing budgets that would “shower the wealthiest Americans with even more tax cuts.”
“In this country, prosperity does not trickle down,” Obama said. “Prosperity grows from the bottom up and it grows from a strong middle class out … and that’s why I’m always confused when we keep having the same argument with folks who don’t seem to remember how America was built.
“They keep telling us if we’d just weaken regulations … cut everybody’s taxes and convert these investments in community colleges and research and to healthcare into tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, that somehow the economy is going to get stronger and Ohio and the rest of the country will prosper,” the president said.
“That’s the theory,” he said. “Ohio, we tested this theory. Take a look what happened between 2000 and 2008 ... their theory did not work out so well.”
Romney fired back with a speech of his own on Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., which will be the site for the Democratic National Convention in September.
"We're a trusting people. We're a hopeful people. But we're not dumb," Romney said.
The likely GOP nominee accused Obama of being "over his head" and "swimming in the wrong direction."
"Virtually nothing the president has done, including the stimulus, which protected the government but didn't help the private sector ... virtually nothing this president has done has helped create jobs," he said.
But Romney could have to make up some ground in the Buckeye State. A Quinnipiac poll released in late March shows Obama leading the Republican front-runner in Ohio 47 percent to 41.
Obama started his visit in Ohio on Wednesday by participating in a roundtable with unemployed workers who are students in the community college’s job-training programs.
The White House said that using federal money, the college has educated students who have been laid off from manufacturing jobs. White House officials say 90 percent of the college’s job-training program participants have found jobs within three months of graduation.
The visit to Ohio was Obama’s 20th trip to the battleground state since taking office. He’s been there a couple of times in recent months. Last month, he took British Prime Minister David Cameron to a college basketball game during the March Madness tournament.
In January, Obama made his first domestic trip of the year to Shaker Heights, a working-class Cleveland suburb, to announce the appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In his address on Wednesday, Obama — who has been cranking up his populist rhetoric in recent months — said the current debate centered around the middle class is “not just another run-of-the-mill political debate.”
“There’s always chatter in Washington, folks arguing about whether the sun rises in the east and whether it sets in the west,” he said. “Whether the sky is blue. There’s always going to be arguments in Washington. But this one is different because we’re talking about the central challenge of our time.”
Obama said he and Republicans have “two competing visions of the future."
“The choice could not be clearer,” he said. “But their theory, I believe, is wrong.”