Obama, Romney Test Economic Messages in Swing States

With the economy cooling and unemployment stuck above 8 percent, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are battling to set the terms of the economic debate for swing-state voters.

Romney told a crowd of supporters in Golden, Colorado, today that Obama failed to fulfill his promise to revive the U.S. economy because his policies are flawed. In Florida and in Virginia, Obama continued a second day of attacks on Romney’s tax proposal, calling it “trickle-down fairy dust” that would add to the deficit and favor the wealthy over middle-income Americans.

Both campaigns were anticipating tomorrow’s release of the U.S. Labor Department jobs report for July. Payrolls probably increased by 100,000 after an 80,000 gain in June, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The jobless rate, which has been above 8 percent for more than three years, was probably at 8.2 percent for a third month.

“His policies have not worked,” Romney said of Obama as he addressed a crowd of supporters in Golden, Colorado. “I understand what it takes to get America working again.”

Obama is pursuing a strategy of pleading for patience on the economy while putting attention on tax fairness rather than on jobs and growth.

“They have tried to sell us this trickle-down fairy dust before,” Obama said at Rollins College in Winter Park. “He’s asking you to pay more so that people like him can pay less. So that people like me pay less.”

Tax Debate

Florida, Virginia and Colorado have 51 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Obama won all three states in 2008 and both campaigns are targeting them for November.

Florida is the biggest prize among the swing states and is among the states hardest hit by the recession. Its unemployment rate of 8.6 percent is tied with Michigan for 12th highest in the nation. It ranks 30th for the first quarter in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States, which combines data on tax collections, personal income, unemployment, home prices, mortgage foreclosures and stock performance of companies located in a state.

While Colorado’s jobless rate was 8.2 percent in June, the state was eighth on the BEES index for improving economic health from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of this year. Virginia, with a heavy concentration of government offices and contractors, had an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent in June.

Obama Ad

The Obama campaign released its latest ad today, targeting Romney’s finances and his tax proposal. Running in swing states including Florida, Virginia and Colorado, the ad cites a study by the independent Tax Policy Center that concluded Romney’s plan would shift more of the tax burden to those making less than $200,000 a year. Obama also cited the study in his remarks.

“Chances are” most Americans pay a higher tax rate than Romney, who earned $21.6 million in 2010 and paid a 14 percent effective tax rate, it says. “He pays less, you pay more,” the narrator says.

“President Obama appears to be mounting a two-pronged ‘it could be worse’ strategy,” David Primo, a political science professor at the University of Rochester in New York, said in an e-mail. “This is a far cry from his 2008 message of ‘hope’ and ‘yes, we can,’ and reflects the reality that most voters do not believe the economy is headed in the right direction.”

Promises on Economy

In Colorado, Romney said Obama has failed on every promise he made in 2008 on unemployment, the housing market, family income and cutting the deficit.

He held up a “report card” designed by his campaign that contrasts his record as Massachusetts governor with that of Obama as president. Referring to economic indicators on the report card, Romney said he would “get all those arrows green again” if he is elected.

Obama has an edge over Romney in national polls. He led the challenger 51 percent to 41 percent in a July 16-26 poll of registered voters conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington. The survey has an error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

He also leads in some key swing states. A Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll in Ohio and Florida showed Obama with a 6-percentage-point advantage in each of the two states and 11 points in Pennsylvania.

Making Profits

The poll found that a torrent of television advertising appears to be resonating in Obama’s quest to define Romney before many voters are very familiar with him. The polls found that more likely voters say Romney’s career was too focused on making profits at Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, rather than the kind of experience that would help create jobs.

Both men are ultimately talking to just a small fraction of the population, the polling found. Just 4 percent of voters in the battleground states surveyed say they’re undecided, and only about one in 10 who have picked a candidate say they might change their minds.

Romney was making his first domestic campaign appearance since returning from a trip to the U.K., Israel and Poland that was marked by a series of gaffes. His aides have argued that any minor stumbles on the trip will quickly be forgotten by voters mostly concerned about the U.S. economy.

Closely Watched

Both campaigns are entering one of the most closely watched periods of the election season. Romney this month will name his vice presidential running mate and will be formally nominated at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Romney, 65, today also is appearing with a group of Republican governors near Aspen, Colorado. Among those joining Romney are New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

This evening, he is attending a fundraiser in Aspen being held in conjunction with a gathering of the Republican Governors Association that is attracting some of the party’s top strategists and politicians.

Obama, who was the first Democrat to carry Virginia since 1964, ended the day there, marking his 38th visit to the state since taking office, according to his campaign. This year alone he has held 10 political events in the commonwealth.

“Nobody is satisfied with our pace of growth,” Obama told an evening rally at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, Virginia. “But if you look at our history, if you look at our facts, every time we’ve grown it hasn’t been by the top down, it’s been from the middle out, it’s been from the bottom up.”

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