(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney gave economic speeches at almost the same time in Ohio today. But their arguments could not have been more different.
Set in one of the swing states that will decide the November election, the speeches laid out the stark contrast Americans face in November between the president’s economic policies and those of his challenger.
Obama traveled to Ohio and spoke at a community college outside Cleveland to effectively to hit a reset button on his re-election campaign following a stretch of bad economic news and messaging missteps that have shaken Democrats’ confidence and caused some allies to sound the alarm.
At the outset, he admitted he misspoke last week when he said “the private sector is doing just fine” creating jobs. At the end he politely asked for supporters to “stand with me” for a second term.
“There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies,” he said of the months until November. “Recently I made my own contribution.”
He warned that a President Romney would doom the middle class. He called it a “defining moment” in American history.
“From 2001 to 2008 we had the slowest job growth in half a century,” Obama said, arguing that the economy has done worse under recent Republican presidents. He said economic policies that focused on deregulation led to Americans borrowing too much money and relying too much on credit cards.
“Why do we think they would work better this time? We can’t afford to jeopardize our future by repeating the mistakes of the past,” Obama said, hoping to tie Romney’s policies to those of former President George W. Bush.
“In the fall of 2008 it all came tumbling down,” said Obama, later adding that many economists say it should take 10 years from 2008 for the economy to fully recover. But he said the economy now is growing and has added more than 4 million private sector jobs during his presidency.
He told supporters the only way things get done in Washington is through the ballot box.
“The only thing that can break the stalemate is you,” he said to voters. “Your vote will finally determine the path we take as a nation. Everything else is just noise, everything else is just a distraction.”
It was, in short, an argument to voters that he should be able to continue his policies because they are working, albeit slowly. He focused on plans to invest heavily in education and alternative energy programs, and raising taxes on the wealthy.
Romney has said his focus would be on cutting government spending to ward off debilitating deficits and debt.
It’s a case that Obama has been pushing for weeks in smaller campaign appearances with donors and grassroots volunteers. But he’s now under pressure to articulate it more convincingly and broadly, as polls show a tightening race headed into the summer with many swing voters still making up their minds about the Republican nominee.
Romney spoke in Cincinnati, ending a speech to supporters just before Obama took the stage outside Cleveland. He argued that it is actually the president’s policies that have kept the poor economy from rebounding.
“So as you look at the president’s record, it is long on words and short on action that created jobs,” said Romney, speaking at a metal manufacturer. “And again, talk is cheap. Action speaks loudly. Look what’s happened across this country.”
“If you think things are going swimmingly, if you think the president’s right when he said the private sector is doing fine, well, then he’s the guy to vote for,” said Romney. “But when he said that, there was such an outpouring of response from the 23 million Americans out of work or underemployed that I think today he’s not going to say it again.”
No candidate for president since 1960 has won an election without carrying Ohio. Obama captured the state by four points in 2008, 51 to 47 percent, over Sen. John McCain.
Polls show Obama is in a close race with Romney in Ohio, leading him 48 to 42 percent in an NBC/Marist poll from mid-May but neck and neck, 45 to 44 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll in the state just a week earlier.
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