LORAIN, Ohio — Eager to show conservative Republicans that he's ready to take the fight to President Obama, Mitt Romney campaigned Thursday at a dusty drywall factory shuttered when George W. Bush was president — making the case that Obama's economic policies have failed to revive the nation's economy.
It was the second day of the Romney campaign's effort to "bracket" Obama with "pre-buttal" and rebuttal remarks in the early days of their general election battle.
On Wednesday, Romney delivered a speech overlooking the stadium in North Carolina where Obama will deliver his Democratic convention address in August. The same day, the president touted his administration's initiatives to retrain unemployed workers, during an event at Lorain County Community College.
Following Obama to Ohio, Romney spoke to more than a hundred people Thursday in the cavernous, empty factory where his campaign had hung a black banner bearing one of its new slogans: "Obama isn't working."
Romney noted that Obama had visited National Gypsum Co. in February 2008. He did not mention, however, that the thrust of Obama's message that day was that he would take steps to keep jobs in America, in part by avoiding passing "unfair trade deals like NAFTA that put special interests over workers' interests."
"This factory used to have people working in it," Romney told the crowd. "The people who are no longer working here … used to be able to shop, go out to restaurants for dinner now and then, or go to movie or — and they're not able to do those things like they were before. So those other enterprises had to lay off people. Americans are hurting because of the lack of jobs under this president's term, and his failure to end the recession and to start creating jobs."
Alluding to Obama's appearance in Elyria the day before, Romney said the president had argued that the campaign would come down to competing visions for America.
"If you want to know where his vision leads, open your eyes because we have been living it for the last three years. It leads to lost jobs, lost homes, lost dreams. It's time to end that vision and have a vision of growth and jobs and economic vitality," he said to applause.
The event exemplified the dueling narratives of the two campaigns, and the question that will be at the fore over the next seven months: Whether Americans believe the economy is improving. Despite the reduced unemployment rate, polling shows Obama still is vulnerable on the economy and jobs.
While Obama points to signs of progress, Romney has focused on statistics like the net loss of jobs in Ohio since Obama took office — 50,000, according to his aides — or the percentage of lost jobs that women account for since early 2009. (The former Massachusetts governor is always careful to add a hopeful note. "These are tough times for the American people. And we're not despondent, we are not in despair, but we recognize this president is not the person who can lead us to good jobs with good incomes and a bright future," he said Thursday.)
Obama's campaign accused Romney of distorting the facts.
"Under President Obama's leadership every working American has received a tax cut, fewer new regulations have been approved than under President Bush, and we've gone from losing 750,000 jobs a month when he took office to creating over 4 million private-sector jobs in the last 25 months," Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said, adding that Romney's policies would favor "millionaires and billionaires" and allow Wall Street to "write its own rules."
In some cases, the Romney campaign's message has collided with that of Republican leaders in key swing states. For example, Ohio's Republican Gov. John Kasich, who endorsed Romney on Thursday but did not appear at his event, has frequently touted Ohio's improving jobs picture.
When asked about the steady job gains in Ohio — the state's unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1% in February 2009 (shortly after Obama took office) to 7.6% in February 2012 — Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom was unyielding, arguing that unemployment was still "unacceptably high."
"This is not something that anybody should feel proud about — certainly not this president," Fehrnstrom said.
Pressed on whether anyone in government deserved any credit for the jobs created in the last few years, Fehrnstrom said that with 24 million Americans out of work or underemployed, "this president cannot take credit for any success on the jobs front. None at all."