CLEVELAND – President Obama cast his re-election race against Republican Mitt Romney as the economic choice of a lifetime on Thursday, seeking to stir undecided voters and asking the nation to buy into his vision for four more years or face a return to the recession-era mistakes of the past.
Said Romney: Talk is cheap.
From opposite ends of Ohio, a state vital to both of their political futures, Romney and Obama dueled in economic speeches that set the tone for a fierce, final five months of debate. At the core, the pitches were the political foes familiar, fundamentally different takes on how get to an economically aching nation soaring again.
Thats really what this election is about, Obama said.
Romney went first from Cincinnati, a Republican stronghold, and he described Obamas administration as the very enemy of people who create jobs.
Look whats happened across this country, Romney said. If you think things are going swimmingly, if you think the presidents right when he said the private sector is doing fine, then hes the guy to vote for.
But he questioned why anyone would do that, saying if the job isnt getting done, pick someone who can do a better job.
The backdrop was Ohio, seen by strategists as a state that could swing the election. It went to Obama last time and George W. Bush before that, and it remains crucial. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.
Romney gave what amounted to his standard speech, albeit realigned as a prebuttal as Obama was pulling into his event site at the top of the state. Given the tight presidential race and the enormous interest in the economy, the two speeches offered anticipation of a big campaign moment, but the substance yielded little new.
This was Obama in professor mode, filling his speech with budget numbers and history and talk of independent analysts. It was an economics case, yet hardly one of roaring rhetorical lift.
The goal for Obama was not to uncork new proposals but to define a contrast. He is still pushing tax credits and other jobs ideas that have awaited action in Congress for months.
On Thursday, he said the election is an opportunity for voters to step in and break the stalemate. In essence, Obama said Romney would gut government and cut taxes for the rich at the expense of everyone else.
Romney said Obama is crushing the free market with regulation.
Obama said, If you believe this economy grows best when everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules, then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as president.
Despite what had seemed to be a speech showdown, the two events were not of the same scope.
Obama spoke for more than 50 minutes, more than doubling Romneys comments, in what his campaign called the first in a series of major economic speeches.
Romneys reference to Obamas statement about the private sector doing fine recalled what was largely seen as a presidential gaffe last week. Even though Obamas aides said he was taken out of context, Obama conceded his misstep Thursday, joking It wasnt the first time. It wont be the last.
The president also appealed for more time to let his ideas work. Citing the monster American recession, he said most countries in the past have needed 10 years to recover.