Romney looks to play offense with college crowd in Ohio

Romney's address centered on the theme that "appearances do not always equal reality" as the former Massachusetts governor sought to gradually undermine the president's appeal with young voters by questioning his record on the economy.

"Sometimes what people say is not a perfect example of what they’re gonna do," Romney told the crowd of students.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee detailed his work at Bain Capital helping to launch steel and office supply companies, suggesting he had the record to help stimulate economic growth. He compared that record with Obama, with whom he claimed a "disparity between appearance and reality."

"The right course is not to do what the president is doing, but what he said he would do ... words and record and reality can sometimes be different," Romney said.

Romney went on to say the president had failed by the measures he himself identified in 2008 as important indicators.

"The president will say he inherited that, and it's true, he did inherit a recession. But he did not make it better," Romney said.

Romney's speech — billed as a "guest lecture" at the Methodist university — was notably drier that some of Obama's appearances on college campuses, with only polite applause or laughter punctuating his speech. But Romney did seem to find some common ground with the college students, using fast food entrepreneurs like Jimmy John, who operates an eponymous sandwich chain, and pizzeria CEO "Papa" John Schnatter to make his argument for decreased regulation on financial institutions that might fund the next restaurant chain. Mentions of the popular restaurants earned knowing laughs from the college audience.

"If your priority is to create jobs, I'm the right guy to vote for," Romney said.

Schnatter, whose Papa John's pizza chain ranks as the third largest in the country, is notably a top fundraiser for the Romney campaign.

The speech was an important strategic move for Romney, who has seen Obama hitting college campuses across the country in recent weeks to advocate for a freeze of interest rates on federal student loans. Obama also appeared on a taping of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" on the campus of the University of North Carolina to advocate for an extension of the law that halved interest rates on federal student loans.

Earlier Friday, the House voted in favor of legislation that would do just that, but Republicans included a provision that would eliminate a part of the president's healthcare reform law. Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

Obama won two-thirds of the college-aged vote in 2008 and sees the youth vote as a key part of his electorate. The president's first two official campaign appearances will be on the campuses of Ohio State University and Virginia Commonwealth University, his campaign announced earlier this week.

But Romney hopes that he can erode away some of that support, arguing to students the president was not the unifying figure they were promised.

"This kind of divisiveness, this attack of success, is very different from what we've seen in our nation's history. ... I won't attack this executive or that successful person. I will try to unite America," Romney said.