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Romney said the president's economic policies ran contrary to those of the American heartland, making a clear appeal to swing-state voters who could play a crucial role in November.

"Common sense, kitchen table values. Not fancy, but enduring," Romney said. "These aren’t the values that lead to out-of-control spending sprees, or to piling up massive amounts of debt you know your children – and grandchildren – will have to work all their lives to pay off. These aren’t the values of putting off difficult decisions with the hope that maybe someone else will solve them. Today America faces a financial crisis of debt and spending that threatens what it means to be an American. Here in the heartland you know in your hearts that it’s wrong."

Romney's speech is an attempt to set the terms for what both sides acknowledge will be the central issue of the 2012 campaign — the economy. Earlier Tuesday, President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaKrystal Ball tears into 'Never Trump' Republicans Sanders campaign announces it contacted over 1 million Iowa voters Iowa Steak Fry to draw record crowds for Democrats MORE acknowledged during an appearance on "The View" that the economy would be the central theme of the fight for the White House, and the president's reelection team released a highly critical ad blasting Romney's tenure at Bain Capital on Monday.

But Romney sought to portray himself as someone who understood and appreciated the efficiencies of the private sector as contrasted with "the endless expansion of government."

"The slowest, least responsive sector is the federal government. Nobody hears 'Washington, D.C.' and thinks 'efficiency,'" Romney said. "Imagine if the federal government was the sole legal supplier of cellphones. First, they'd still be under review, with hearings in Congress. When finally approved, the contract to make them would go to an Obama donor. They'd be the size of a shoe, with a collapsible solar panel. And campaign donors would be competing to become the all-powerful App Czar."

Romney went on to pepper his speech with examples of wasteful or redundant government spending while advocating for large-scale tax and entitlement reforms.

"My approach to federal programs and bureaucracy is entirely different. Move programs to states or to the private sector where they can be run more efficiently and where we can do a better job helping the people who need our help. Shut down programs that aren't working. And streamline everything that's left. It's time for the people of America to take back the government of America," Romney said.

Alternatively, Romney painted Obama as a purveyor of "old" liberal politics and accused him of making "little effort to rein in redundancy and waste."

Seizing on the economy will be critical for Romney in November, with the Republican challenger trailing the president on personal popularity. Romney advisers hope that by hammering the nationwide economic slump and portraying their candidate as an able alternative, they'll be able to win on the issue swing voters consistently say will decide their vote in 2012.

But the president's reelection campaign is looking to define the still-enigmatic Romney's economic credentials before he is able to gain a foothold. In a statement released Monday night, the Obama campaign pointed to Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts in arguing he was ill-qualified to criticize the president.

“Mitt Romney knows a lot about out-of-control spending and debt -- it was his record in Massachusetts. During his four years as governor, state spending increased by 6.5 percent per year, government jobs grew six times as fast as private sector jobs, taxes and fees went up by $750 million each year, and debt increased by 16% percent. In fact, he left Massachusetts with the largest per-capita debt of any state in the country," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.

Both Obama's re-election campaign and a prominent liberal Super PAC also released ads this week critical of Romney's time helming Bain Capital. Democrats believe that by undermining Romney's economic credentials now, they have an opportunity to define his candidacy and neutralize his greatest advantage over the president early on.

“This is about the values Romney lived by,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on a conference call with reporters Monday. “This is about whether Romney’s business experience qualifies him to make the right decisions as president.”

Romney will travel to another swing state — Florida — where he plans to campaign in St. Petersburg and Jacksonville later this week.