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High Political Theater in Ohio as Obama, Romney Duel Economic Rhetoric

June 14, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Fighting for attention Thursday in Ohio, President Obama accused Republican rival Mitt Romney of pursuing policies that would plunge the nation back into financial crisis, while Romney attacked the president's economic stewardship. Jeffrey Brown reports.

JEFFREY BROWN: The presidential campaign spotlight shone squarely today on the economy and a single battleground state.

The two contenders took their appeals to two cities just 250 miles apart. It was a day of high political theater for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. And the stage was Ohio, critical to both men come November. Several recent polls show the race in Ohio may be tightening. One has Romney ahead by three points.

And, today, Romney began his event 15 minutes early in Cincinnati, getting in the first blow.

MITT ROMNEY (R): Now, you may have heard that President Obama is on the other side of the state, and he’s going to be delivering a speech on the economy. He’s doing that because he hasn’t delivered a recovery for the economy.

JEFFREY BROWN: Romney offered no new specific proposals, and neither did President Obama when he spoke in Cleveland a short time later in what was billed as his first major economic speech of the general election campaign.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Both parties have laid out their policies on the table for all to see. What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president was seeking to reset the debate over economic policy after days of rough going. First came May’s disappointing jobs numbers, and then last Friday’s rhetorical slip-up at a White House news conference.

BARACK OBAMA: The private sector is doing fine.

JEFFREY BROWN: Later, the president said what he meant was that private business is creating at least some jobs, but the public sector is laying people off.

Today, he acknowledged his gaffe and urged voters to look beyond.

BARACK OBAMA: Over the next five months, this election will take many twists and many turns. Polls will go up and polls will go down. There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies that keep both campaigns busy and give the press something to write about.

JEFFREY BROWN: Still, the Romney camp made clear today with a new television ad that the issue isn’t going away.

BARACK OBAMA: The private sector is doing fine.

JEFFREY BROWN: Coincidentally, that ad was almost identical to one the Obama campaign ran in 2008 against Republican John McCain after McCain had said, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

Ultimately, as the NewsHour’s Vote 2012 Map Center shows, candidate Obama carried Ohio 51 percent to 47 percent over McCain. It was the Cleveland area, shaded blue, that gave the president his greatest support in the state. McCain did best in southwestern Ohio’s red zone around Cincinnati and its surroundings, where Romney appeared today.

No Republican has won the White House without the state’s 18 electoral votes, and Romney appealed to voters in Ohio and elsewhere that it’s not what the president says, but what he does.

MITT ROMNEY: If you want to see the results of his economic policies, look around Ohio, look around the country, and you will see that a lot of people are hurting, a lot of people have had some real tough times. And the policies the president put in place didn’t make America create more jobs. As a matter of fact, he made it harder for America to create more jobs.

JEFFREY BROWN: Statewide unemployment in Ohio topped 10 percent in 2009. But, since then, the Buckeye State’s jobless rate has fallen to 7.4 percent, well below the national rate. The president today claimed some credit for that progress and he warned against Republican policies.

BARACK OBAMA: Remember that the economic vision of Mr. Romney and his allies in Congress was tested just a few years ago. We tried this. Their policies didn’t grow the economy. They didn’t grow the middle class. They didn’t reduce our debt. Why would we think that they would work better this time?

JEFFREY BROWN: While voters in Ohio think that over, the president headed to New York for a fund-raiser. Mitt Romney will be back in Ohio this weekend as part of a bus tour through the Midwest.