WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney squared off last Saturday on China and accused each other of backing policies that would move American jobs overseas as the U.S. economy struggles to recover.
Both sides were competing for white working-class voters. Romney needs to win at least 60 percent of the white vote to offset Obama's overwhelming edge with blacks and Hispanics. Obama's campaign is hoping to reduce Romney's advantage among white working-class voters by portraying the Republican nominee as an out-of-touch multimillionaire whose private equity firm downsized and outsourced jobs.
Obama's team argued that Romney has profited from and outsourced jobs to China. The president also rolled out a new 60-second, $6 million TV ad campaign in seven battleground states that casts Romney as risky for the nation's recovery and features former President Bill Clinton saying:"They want to go back to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place.''
Seven weeks before Election Day, both candidates took a rare break from campaigning even as they intensified their efforts on the economy, through the prism of China, with Obama sensing an opportunity to undercut his Republican rival's strength and Romney refusing to cede ground. The maneuvering came as a new poll showed Romney having lost his long-held advantage on the economy to the president even as the overall contest remains tight.
For Romney, emphasizing China was a way to refocus his campaign on voters' No. 1 issue and the central one of his campaign after a difficult week dominated by foreign policy, a weak spot for the Republican, in the wake of unrest at U.S. embassies in the Middle East. The shift to China also indicated Romney's need to shore up support among the white working-class voters he needs to turn out for him in big numbers come November.
"In 2008, candidate Obama promised to take China `to the mat','' Romney said in his weekly podcast. "But since then, he's let China run all over us.'' Obama's campaign said it welcomed the fight on China, an issue where it argues Romney has numerous vulnerabilities. It released a new web video last Saturday in which Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney holds investments in Chinese companies and outsourced jobs to China while running the private equity firm Bain Capital.
Obama's quick counter underscored the importance of holding onto his recent gains in Ohio, a swing state with a large manufacturing base where many blame China for depressing the state's industries. The tit-for-tat on China started percolating late last week.
Romney released a television advertisement Thursday, Sept.13, accusing Obama of "failing American workers'' and ignoring unfair trade practices by China. Obama followed up a day later with a TV spot focused on its claims that Romney outsourced jobs to China while working in the private sector.
Those commercials are dominating the campaign conversation in key states where the race will be decided even as the national campaign conversation focuses on foreign policy in the aftermath of unrest at U.S. embassies that left an American ambassador and three other Americans dead.
China _ and through it the economy _ has become Romney's core argument as he woos voters in battleground states; it's the only spot Romney's campaign was running over recently in the eight states likely to decide the election: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina. Both candidates left it to their advisers to haggle over China on last Saturday Sept. 15.
Romney conferred with advisers at the Belmont, Massachusetts, home of his son Tagg, then watched his grandson's soccer game. The president spent the day at the White House and had no public events. But his campaign got a jump on the day with an early morning launch of the new ad that claims Romney's economic plan caters to multimillionaires over the middle class.
"We're not going back, we are moving forward,'' Obama says in the commercial that aired in the seven most competitive states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams called the ad "false and misleading.''
Obama's new ad is an expensive and expansive effort to gain an upper hand on the economy at a time when voters are reporting feeling slightly more optimistic that the president's policies are helping. A new national survey by The New York Times and CBS News finds that Romney has lost his long-standing edge on the question of who voters view as most likely to restore the economy and create jobs. Despite that, the poll found the race narrowly divided.
Polls in several of the most contested states also show the president with a slight edge. Democrats say Obama has gained an advantage on the economy in part because Romney hasn't laid out specific plans for what he would do differently. And they see signs that voters, even those who say their economic situation isn't better today, believe it will be in a year or two, making it more likely they'll want to stick with Obama.
Unemployment dropped to 8.1 percent last month, but only because more people stopped looking for work. Acknowledging the tenuous situation, the Federal Reserve announced last week that it would spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage bonds for as long as it deems necessary to make home buying more affordable. It also plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows through mid-2015 in an effort to jump-start the listless American economy.
On Saturday, Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, called the Fed's action "sugar-high economics'' that would help banks and Wall Street, but not average Americans. "We don't need synthetic money creation,'' Ryan said during a campaign stop in Oldsmar, Florida. "We need economic growth.''
In the upcoming week, Obama holds rallies in Ohio on Monday, a fundraiser in New York on Tuesday and a two-city Florida swing beginning Thursday. The president is also expected to campaign the weekend in Wisconsin, Ryan's home state and one that Romney is working to turn competitive.
Romney is set to campaign Wednesday and Thursday in Florida. He campaign earlier in Colorado, California and Texas. Both candidates appeared separately at a forum hosted by the influential Hispanic television outlet Univision.