April 20 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney visited an Ohio factory, closed when President George W. Bush was in office, to make the case that President Barack Obama’s economic policies prevented the facility and others like it from reopening.
Standing in the middle of an empty warehouse floor yesterday, Romney blamed Obama for promoting measures that have slowed the economic recovery.
“It would have reopened by now, but it’s still empty,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said. “It underscores the failure of this president’s policies with regards to getting the economy working again.”
Obama used the facility in Lorain, Ohio, that is owned by dry wall company National Gypsum Co. as a setting for his own campaign stop in February 2008.
“What I refuse to accept is that we have to stand idly by while workers watch their jobs get shipped overseas,” Obama said then. “We need a president who’s working as hard for you as you’re working for your families. And that’s the kind of president I intend to be.”
The Obama campaign shot back at Romney yesterday, charging him with misrepresenting the circumstances of the factory’s closing.
“If Mitt Romney wants to convince the American people that he will ‘tell the truth,’ he might want to start by ending his deceptive rhetoric on the campaign trail,” spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
With new surveys showing a tightening general election contest since Romney emerged as the all-but-certain Republican nominee last week, he and the president are honing their messages. The dry-wall-inspired dust-up highlighted a central question voters will hear debated through the campaign: Is Obama to blame for the slow economic recovery?
The Ohio factory closed in June 2008, seven months before Obama took office and during an 18-month recession that didn’t officially end until June 2009. Ohio’s economy has been improving for more than a year, adding 91,100 jobs from December 2010 through February 2012, the fourth highest in the U.S. during that time, data show.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, unemployment has fallen in Ohio from 8.6 percent to 7.6 percent February.
Ohio ranked seventh among all states in its economic recovery in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared with the previous year, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.
Nationwide, the economy strengthened late in 2011 as growth accelerated from a 1.3 percent annual pace in the second quarter to 3 percent in the year’s final three months. Unemployment has dropped in six of the past seven months, to 8.2 percent in March from 9.1 percent last August. The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index is up 7.6 percent this year.
Romney aides argued that the dry-wall factory effectively illustrates what the campaign views as the failure of the Obama administration.
“The fact that it struggled through the last three years is not the fault of Barack Obama’s predecessor,” said spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. “It’s the fault of this administration and the failure of their policies to really get this economy moving again.”
Registered voters split evenly between Obama and Romney, with each candidate getting 46 percent support nationally, in a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted April 13-17. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Even as Romney focuses on Obama, he is working to unite Republicans after a divisive primary campaign. Today he will address Republican Party state chairmen from across the country at their national meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
Next month, he will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, a college founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell. The May 12 appearance offers an opportunity for Romney, a Mormon, to reach out to evangelical Christians, an important part of the Republican base that has been skeptical of his candidacy.
His campaign reported today that it collected close to $12.6 million in contributions in March, its best fundraising month yet. The campaign has raised a total of $87 million in Romney’s second bid for the presidency and has almost $10.1 million on hand, it said in a statement.
Romney’s fundraising last month occurred as he won several contests that cleared his path for his party’s nomination, including closely watched primaries in Ohio and Illinois. Romney emerged as the presumptive nominee after his main challenger, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, announced on April 10 he was ending his candidacy.
With the general-election campaign engaged, Obama is framing his re-election argument on “fairness” and who would better look out for the interests of middle-income Americans.
Campaigning April 18 in Elyria, Ohio, the president told a group of unemployed workers being trained at Lorain County Community College that they face a choice in November between steady federal support for education and deep reductions in such programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
“We have two competing visions of our future,” Obama said. “We keep having the same argument with folks who don’t seem to remember how America was built.”
Without mentioning Romney by name, he indirectly drew a contrast with his probable opponent, who helped form the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC in Boston and is the son of a former auto industry executive.
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Obama said. “Michelle wasn’t, but someone gave us a chance,” he added, referring to his wife.
Romney, whose father headed now defunct American Motors Corp. before becoming governor of Michigan, responded in an interview on Fox News yesterday.
“ I’m not going to apologize for my dad and his success in his life,” Romney said on “Fox & Friends.” “He was born poor and he worked his way to become very successful despite the fact that he didn’t have a college degree.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Lorain, Ohio at firstname.lastname@example.org;