Obama and Romney refocus on the economy

Posted: September 18, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - On a day when the White House lodged a trade complaint against China, President Obama pitched his reelection to working-class voters in this industrial battleground state.

Obama touted the challenge, filed with the World Trade Organization, on two Ohio stops, while Republican Mitt Romney kept up his criticism that the administration had been too soft on China's unfair trading practices.

It was a day for both campaigns to return to economic themes, taking advantage of the roughly two weeks remaining before the series of televised debates begins to try to define the race on their own terms.

In appearances here and in Cincinnati, Obama mocked Romney for investments he made as head of Bain Capital that the president said had caused the loss of U.S. jobs to China.

"I understand my opponent's been running around Ohio claiming he's going to take the fight to China," Obama said, to groans and scattered boos from a crowd estimated at 4,500 in Schiller Park, just south of downtown Columbus. "This is a guy whose experience is owning companies that were called pioneers in outsourcing jobs to countries like China. Ohio, you can't stand up to China if all you've done is send 'em our jobs."

The White House's trade measure, accusing China of illegally subsidizing its auto-parts exports, came in for ridicule from Romney, who called it an obvious political move so close to the Nov. 6 election.

"Campaign-season trade cases sound good on the stump," the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement, "but it is too little, too late for American businesses and middle-class families."

Romney spoke Monday to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles as his campaign was in reset mode, with advisers seeking to refocus on the economy after last week's skirmishing with the president over foreign policy in the aftermath of attacks on a U.S consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the embassy in Cairo.

The challenger's campaign also faced a Politico report of disarray in its high command and infighting among top advisers.

In a conference call with reporters, Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie said it was a "natural progression" to emphasize specific policy proposals in the coming weeks, after a GOP convention that was aimed at introducing Romney "as a person" and repairing the damage done by millions of dollars' worth of Obama attack ads.

Romney and running mate Paul Ryan will not roll out new policies in the coming days, but will provide some more details, Gillespie said. He hinted that would include some specifics on the Romney pledge to achieve energy independence through increasing domestic supply, and on the federal agencies whose responsibilities Romney would like to merge or hand off to states.

Polling tells the campaign that voters know Romney has a plan for the economy and the national debt, "but we also know that they'd like more specifics," Gillespie said. "We're going to meet that demand."

Late in the day, Romney encountered another distraction, when a secret videotape of him speaking to wealthy donors was reported by Mother Jones magazine. In the video, recorded earlier this year, Romney is heard saying he would never get the votes of the 47 percent of Americans who "believe that they are victims" and pay no taxes because they have a sense of entitlement.

"My job is not to worry about those people," Romney says in the video. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

A good number of the people who don't pay federal income taxes are either senior citizens who don't earn enough to have any tax liability, or those too disabled to work.

The Romney campaign did not dispute the video's contents. Spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Romney wants to "help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy."

Ohio's unemployment is about a percentage point lower than the national average, at 7.2 percent, and the state has added 122,300 jobs since Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in early 2011.

And there's some evidence that Ohio voters are giving Obama a little credit for an improved picture. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist College poll showed Obama leading Romney in the state by 50 percent to 43 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Losing Ohio, the state that locked down President George W. Bush's reelection in 2004, would be a tough blow for Romney. As the mandatory line in every print, online or TV news story says, no Republican in the modern age has won the White House without carrying Ohio.

Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com or follow @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent.

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