Republican Mitt Romney cited a Massachusetts health-care law he backed as showing his “empathy,” then later reiterated his pledge to repeal national legislation modeled after the state’s measure as he and President Barack Obama crisscrossed Ohio yesterday.
The two candidates also accused each other of being too weak to confront China on trade and lacking plans to create jobs as each returned to focusing on the economy after several days during which turmoil in the Middle East dominated the presidential campaign.
Obama and Romney will shadow each other again today in Virginia, like Ohio a critical battleground state.
Health care figured in yesterday’s back-and-forth after Romney broached the issue during an interview with NBC News while he stumped in Ohio.
He had been asked about ways he could better show that he understands challenges facing most Americans, a question sparked by the recent release of a video recorded at a private fundraiser in May at which Romney said that 47 percent of voters view themselves as victims dependent on government help.
Romney responded to the question by mentioning the health-care law he helped pass in Massachusetts as that state’s governor. He usually doesn’t bring up the measure, which served as a blueprint for the national health-care overhaul Obama championed and that Republicans -- including Romney -- consistently criticize and say should be repealed.
“Don’t forget -- I got everybody in my state insured,” Romney said in the interview conducted before a rally in Toledo, the last of three he held in Ohio yesterday. “One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don’t think there’s anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record.”
At the rally, Romney then repeated his vow to repeal the national health-care law if he wins the White House, terming the measure “exhibit No. 1 of the president’s political philosophy, and that is that government knows better than people how to run their lives.”
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said that while Romney was “working overtime to rehabilitate his image after being caught writing off half of all Americans to a room of high-dollar donors,” his effort fell short.
In a statement, she said that while Romney “held up the Massachusetts health care law as evidence of his empathy for people, minutes later he promised to repeal Obamacare, which is modeled after his own law.” That’s “not empathetic,” she said.
In six days, Obama and Romney meet in Denver for the first of three face-to-face debates. By the time of their third debate on Oct. 22, voters already will be able to cast early, in-person ballots in six of the nine top battleground states, adding a new urgency to the campaign swings by the candidates. Early voting in Ohio starts Oct. 2.
After Florida, Ohio is the second-largest state among the battlegrounds that strategists from both parties say will decide the Nov. 6 election. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio, which has 18 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed.
At appearances in the state yesterday, the two candidates sparred from afar over China.
“The president has had multiple opportunities to label China as a currency manipulator,” Romney said in Toledo. “He hasn’t. I will.”
The U.S. had a $295 billion trade deficit with China last year, an 8.2 percent increase over 2010. A report last month by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington said the imbalance between the world’s two largest economies has resulted in the loss of 2.7 million U.S. jobs in the past decade.
Obama said during an event at Bowling Green State University that Romney’s claim he would get tough on trade with China is “just not credible.”
The president said he’s brought more trade cases against China than any previous administration while accusing Romney, in his former job as a private-equity executive, of profiting from companies that send jobs overseas.
“When you see these ads he’s running promising to get tough on China,” Obama said, “it feels a lot like that fox saying, ‘You know, we need more secure chicken coops.’”
Obama, as he has since the video of Romney’s “victims” comment surfaced, sought to use the Republican’s words against him.
“As I look out on this crowd I don’t see a lot of victims, I see hard-working Ohioans,” Obama said. “We don’t believe in the government helping those who won’t help themselves. But we do believe in opportunity.”
Obama also spoke at Ohio’s Kent State University.
Romney kept up his attacks on Obama’s economic record.
“We can’t afford four more years like the last four years,” Romney said at a spring-wire manufacturing plant in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights, the second of his three Ohio appearances. “We’ve got to get this economy going again,” he said, arguing that he knows how to do that and Obama doesn’t.
One of Romney’s challenges in making his case in Ohio is that the state’s unemployment rate in August was 7.2 percent, lower than the national figure of 8.1 percent. Still, the state has lost 9.3 percent of its manufacturing jobs over the last four years.
A Washington Post poll released Sept. 25 showed Obama leading in Ohio among likely voters, 52 percent to 44 percent. The survey showed that 36 percent of all Ohio voters said they have been contacted by the Obama campaign, while 29 percent said that of Romney.
A Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll released yesterday gave Obama a 53 percent to 43 percent advantage there, including a 25-percentage-point lead among women.
“The field is looking like it’s narrowing for them,” Jen Psaki, an Obama re-election spokeswoman told reporters on Air Force One traveling to Ohio. “We’d rather be us than them.”
Romney and his aides said that even with Obama’s lead in polls, it’s too early to dismiss the Republican’s chances in Ohio.
Romney said his three debates with Obama will change the race’s dynamic.
“I’m absolutely convinced that when people see the two of us talk about our direction for America they’re going to support me because I know what it takes to make the economy going again, and the president has proven he does not,” Romney told ABC News in an interview from Ohio.