President Barack Obama cast November’s election as a chance to break the “stalemate” between two different economic ideologies, as he and Republican challenger Mitt Romney delivered speeches in Ohio that framed the choice voters will face.
The candidates’ appearances yesterday in the pivotal swing state were a rare moment of near-direct conflict in a race that has largely revolved around a barrage of campaign advertising and closed-door fundraisers with donors.
“This election is about our economic future,” the president told supporters at a community college in Cleveland. “This isn’t some abstract debate. This is not another trivial Washington argument.”
About 250 miles (402 kilometers) away, at a Cincinnati manufacturing company warehouse, Romney took the microphone just minutes before Obama began speaking and assailed the president’s policies, blaming his administration for the struggling economy.
“As you look at the president’s record it is long on words and short on action that creates jobs,” he said. “Talk is cheap, action speaks loudly. Look what’s happened across this country.”
With most national polls showing Obama and Romney in a dead heat, campaign strategists said they recognize the race will be won by the candidate who offers the most compelling vision for leading the world’s biggest economy back to more robust growth.
“It’s not about tactics or campaigns; it’s about the reality that people are living,” said Romney chief strategist Stuart Stevens.
Though billed by aides as a major address, Romney largely stuck to his standard stump speech, speaking to the crowd of about 200 with his shirt-sleeves rolled up and without a teleprompter or a suit jacket.
In a speech that was almost twice as long, Obama offered a crowd of 1,500 cheering supporters an expansive explanation for how his economic vision differed from that of Romney. Neither man offered any new ideas.
The back-and-forth came in the midst of a month of political and economic developments that put the Obama administration on the defensive and dealt a blow to the president’s re-election.
White House aides have spent much of the past two weeks attempting to blunt the political damage of a June 1 report showing the U.S. unemployment rate increased in May, and the failure of Democrats and unions in a recall vote against Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, a state Obama’s campaign is counting on in the November election.
Indicators give a mixed picture of the country’s economic health. Claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed to 386,000 in the week ended June 9 from 380,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported yesterday in Washington. A Commerce Department report June 13 showed retail sales in the U.S. fell in May for a second month. Along with slower job growth in May and subdued wage gains, the figures were a sign that the recovery is cooling.
Still, the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index of the biggest U.S. companies has risen 6.7 percent in 2012, beating a version of the S&P 500 that strips out weightings for market value by the most since 1999. Earnings for the 100-company measure are projected to reach a record high this year, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
The S&P 500 Index has risen 5.7 percent so far this year.
During his speech in Cleveland, Obama cast the election as a choice between two “fundamentally different” economic views, rattling off a long list of spending cuts that would affect Americans if Romney and his party succeed in implementing their ideas.
At one point, he addressed his comments directly to undecided voters watching on television, telling them that Romney advocates the policies of the past that he said brought prosperity to the nation’s wealthiest at the expense of middle-income Americans.
“If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney,” Obama said.
In two New York City fundraisers last night to collect $4.5 million, Obama returned to some of the same themes. Addressing about 50 donors at the home of actress Sarah Jessica Parker, he said the Republican attacks on him are “elegant” and “crisp” -- and wrong.
As he has done in campaign appearances across the country, Romney promised to cut government spending, expand domestic energy exploration, impose new trade tariffs on China and grant states waivers to opt out of the federal health-care law.
Standing in front of a banner reading “Putting jobs first,” Romney attacked the White House for crafting the federal health-care law, passing the economic stimulus bill, imposing new regulations on the financial sector and deciding not to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
He ended his speech on an upbeat note, promising voters that his policies would spark a “resurgence” for the struggling economy.
The backdrop of both speeches was Ohio, a critical battleground considered one of a handful of states that could decide the election. Over the past month, the campaigns and the political groups that back them have run more ads in Ohio than any other state.
Ads by Obama, Romney and groups backing them ran 17,359 times on network stations, reaching Ohio voters in the 30-day period between May 13 and June 11, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising. Obama’s campaign made up about 51 percent of the total.
Still, the state is somewhat of an economic outlier. Obama won Ohio in 2008 with 51.4 percent of the vote. Today, the state is recovering faster than most of the country. It ranks seventh in improving economic health in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States from the fourth quarter of 2010 through the fourth quarter of last year, the most recent data available.
The unemployment rate in Ohio was 7.4 percent in April, lower than the national rate of 8.1 percent in that month and down from a high of 10.6 percent from July 2009 through January 2010. Ohio has added 47,200 jobs during the past 12 months through April, including 16,600 manufacturing positions, though it still is down 115,000 total jobs since Obama took office, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
After the speeches, both men headed to fundraisers to build up their campaign war chests.
Romney flew to Chicago for an event at the upscale Public Chicago hotel, where he raised between $3.3 million and $3.5 million, said Ron Gidwitz, one of the event’s organizers.
In New York, Obama attended the reception at the home of Parker and Matthew Broderick, co-hosted by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. The president later appeared at a dinner at the Plaza Hotel hosted by singer Mariah Carey and Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey. The fundraisers were the latest in a series of celebrity-studded events aimed at combating the flood of outside money helping Republicans.