story by Kate Andersen Brower and Lisa Lerer
BLOOMBERG — President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney went head-to-head today in trying to define the choice before voters in speeches delivered from opposite ends of the battleground state of Ohio.
Romney in Cincinnati accused Obama of putting up barriers for the private sector that hamper the recovery. He said Obama doesn’t deserve more time to see if his policies will work.
“As you look at the president’s record, it is long on words and short on action that created jobs,” Romney said at a manufacturing company. “Talk is cheap, action speaks loudly. Look what’s happened across this country.”
A few minutes later and 250 miles to the north, Obama told an crowd at a community college in Cleveland that the differences between his and Romney’s visions are stark.
“This election is about our economic future,” Obama said. “This isn’t some abstract debate. This is not another trivial Washington argument.”
While neither candidate laid out new ideas, the dueling speeches less than five months before the election mark a new phase of the presidential campaign. With most national polls showing Obama and Romney in a dead heat and the state of the economy the top issue in the election, both men are setting out to contrast how they would lead the world’s biggest economy back to more robust growth.
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, according to Labor Department figures released Thursday (June 14) in Washington.
A Commerce Department report released Wednesady that 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 reports were a sign that the recovery is cooling.
Still, the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index of the biggest U.S. companies rose 5.5% in 2012 through Wednesday, 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 4.6% so far this year.
Romney, a former private-equity executive who co-founded the Boston-based firm Bain Capital LLC, said his approach toward business would be a sharp contrast with Obama’s.
He vowed that he would roll back the health-care law that Obama pushed through Congress, remove regulations on energy development and brand China a currency manipulator.
He urged audience members to ask business owners, “Did President Obama’s policies help put people back to work?”
After faulting Obama for continued high unemployment and high energy prices, Romney ended his speech with a promise that his policies would revive the struggling economy.
“We’re poised to see a resurgence of American economic vitality,” he said. “That won’t happen under this president. That’ll happen if we change the course of this country.”
Obama said Romney wants to repeat the policies of the last decade, which he said brought prosperity to the nation’s wealthiest at the expense of middle-income Americans.
The economic challenges facing the U.S. were “more than a decade in the making,” Obama said.
“This was not your normal recession,” he said. “We acted fast, our economy started growing again six month after I took office, and it has continued to grow for the last three years.”
Sixty-eight percent of Americans said Obama’s predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, deserves a great deal or moderate amount of blame for the state of the economy, according to a Gallup poll conducted June 7-10. The survey of 1,004 adults has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points.
Romney’s economic vision “was tested just a few years ago,” Obama said, and the result was a ballooning deficit and a shrinking middle class.
“Why would we think they would work better this time?” Obama said. “We can’t afford to jeopardize our future by repeating the mistakes of the past.”
Obama won Ohio in 2008 with 51.4% of the vote; Republican John McCain had 46.8%. The state 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.
Personal income in the state has risen 4.2% over the period and tax revenue has increased 9.1% as manufacturing has revived. The unemployment rate in Ohio was 7.4% in April, lower than the national rate of 8.1% in that month and down from a high of 10.6 percent from July 2009 through January 2010.
Ohio has added 47,200 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.