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Obama, Romney Duel On The Economy In Ohio, Where It Could All Be Decided

Ohio could very well be the state where what's expected to be a very close presidential race gets decided.

And every indication is that the economy will be the issue that drives the majority of voters to either President Obama or Mitt Romney.

Which explains why on Thursday both the Democratic president and the all-but-official Republican nominee were, again, in Ohio to argue why he and not his opponent should be president starting January 20, 2013.

Each rehearsed his economic arguments in campaign appearances in his respective Buckeye State stronghold. Obama was in heavily Democratic Cleveland on the state's northern edge. Romney was in the Republican bastion of Cincinnati along the state's southern rim bordering Kentucky.

Their appearances in their Ohio electoral sweet spots had symbolic significance: Success or failure for each depends on whose campaign is best at turning out the most voters in the reddest and bluest parts of the state.

The specific venues for their speeches also held additional meaning. Obama spoke at Cuyahoga Community College, a reminder of his pledge to "invest" in domestic priorities, including higher education, and a reflection of his strength with younger voters.

Romney spoke at a small business, a maker of manufacturing equipment. It was a site chosen to underscore his message that he is the better candidate for American business and thus the economy.

As for the speeches themselves, both men mainly repeated themes voters have heard many times before.

Obama again reminded voters how the economy had been in free fall when he became president, how his policies helped stabilize it and by some measures brought real progress, and then he provided his vision of a better economic future for middle-class Americans.

Also, because Obama's best hope for re-election is to frame the contest as a choice between two radically different views of the future depending on who wins, the president hammered repeatedly at his argument against the GOP challenger.

He said a Romney presidency — with more tax cuts for the wealthy and presidential hostility to spending on middle class priorities — would be a third term for George W. Bush, or even worse, though he never mentioned his predecessor by name.

Romney, for his part, continued to make his case that Obama had failed to turn around the economy in his 3 1/2 years in office and had even made it worse. Obama broke his promises, Romney said. And he reminded voters that Obama himself said early in his presidency that his administration would be a "one-term proposition" if the economy didn't significantly improve.

It was all a part of Romney's effort to make sure voters go to the polls in November seeing their vote as a referendum on Obama, instead of a choice between the candidates.

Not that Romney didn't have his own economic vision. He offered what he said were "three big ideas" for increasing the lift under the U.S. economy — more domestic energy production, repealing "Obamacare" and attacking federal deficits.

In an appeal to middle-class voters, Romney said he didn't care about "job creators," meaning the most financially successful Americans, for their own sake; rather he cared about them because of the need for jobs.

Thursday's speeches were watched closely by observers of American politics for the any nuances that could indicate a new theme or direction.

It's important to remember, however, that these are still early days in the presidential race. It's only June and most voters really aren't paying attention to the daily messaging of the campaigns and won't be until the fall, if ever.

Still, for some interested observers like Jason Fichtner, an expert in Social Security and federal tax and budget policy, the dueling speeches underscored a continuing frustration with the realities of the campaign trail.

"The problem I'm having with campaign speeches in general, is they are long on rhetoric and short on substance," said Fichtner, senior research fellow at George Mason University's Libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center where Charles Koch, a founder, serves on the board. "Voters, and me, as a policy analyst, want them to say, 'Here is a plan,' and not blame someone else for our problems.' "

"Is the economy in better shape than four years ago? Yes," says Fichtner, who served as a top official in the Social Security Administration during the Bush administration and into Obama's term, "but could it be better?"

He characterized the differences between the visions put forth by Obama and Romney like this: Obama's view is that the private sector should alleviate the burdens of the public sector, and vice versa for Romney.

Bruce Bartlett, a columnist and blogger on fiscal issues who once worked for congressional Republicans, and in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, but who is now an independent who voted for Obama, said it's up to the president to effectively point out the flaws in Romney's campaign statements, something the president took pains to do Thursday in a 53-minute speech.

"Every single person who runs for president implies there are going to be radical changes the day they're elected," he said. "It seems to me that Romney has gone beyond the norm in this area... And it's up to Obama to draw him out. 'Tell me specifically what taxes are you going to raise? What programs are you going to cut? That's his job. And the job of his campaign."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.

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