Mitt Romney is not taking a breather now that his presidential race has slid from primary to general election mode. Instead, he's hitting the swing-state trail, where the man he intends to beat in November has already been busy.
Witness events this week in Ohio and North Carolina, critical battlegrounds that are closest to "must-win" states for the presumptive Republican nominee's White House hopes.
President Obama’s campaign team is up and running with staffs of more than a dozen in each of those places, whereas Romney’s crew is only in the process of interviewing potential staff to deploy across the country, giving the president an organizational leg up. Nonetheless, with Romney’s GOP competition falling away -- chief rival Rick Santorum exited the race last week -- he has turned his media focus to the president and already has caught up quickly in the most recent national polls.
Romney visited Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday to give what his campaign billed as a “prebuttal” to Obama’s convention address that is scheduled there just after Labor Day. The talking points are certain to set a tone for the fall battle, and show an eagerness to place the focus on the president’s job creation record.
Tailoring his remarks to the Tar Heel State, Romney said, “You won’t hear [from Obama] that since he . . . became president that there have been 50,000 more job losses here in North Carolina, more than twice as many as would fit in that stadium,” according to ABC News and other sources. “You will not hear that 400,000 North Carolinians are out of work.” (Romney’s math is rather fuzzy regarding the stadium’s size; its official capacity is just over 73,000.)
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith responded, “As Mitt Romney heads to Charlotte to ‘prebut’ the president’s convention speech -- over 4 months in advance -- the American people are right to collectively yawn over what promises to be another address heavy on hype and light on anything of substance. For months, Romney and his advisers have repeatedly billed routine speeches as major, game-changing events where they will shake their etch-a-sketch and win over voters with a fresh message. And for months, voters have been left wondering what the specifics of Romney’s foreign or domestic policy agendas would actually entail.”
Democrats also unleashed Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, to contrast with Romney from North Carolina, while the president headed to Ohio for a speech centered on federal job training program at Lorain County Community College.
Prior to Obama’s speech there, the Romney campaign held a conference call to blast the president’s record with respect to the Buckeye State and released a document detailing the employment picture: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since Obama took office Ohio has lost 56,500 jobs, 25,900 of which were in the manufacturing sector.
Still, the unemployment rate has been slowly shrinking in Ohio: It is now 7.6 percent compared to 8.6 percent more than three years ago.
But the hot topic in the state this week is this: The jobs training program that the president touted in Ohio is among the programs that would be cut under Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which Romney supports. Romney, however, has not shied away from his intention to consolidate and cut federal job training programs and, in fact, reminds voters of that frequently.
It’s the difference in these visions for job creation and the programs that help or hurt that will color the campaign in swing states like Ohio. Romney argues that these programs clog the government and eat up taxpayer dollars that could go back into the pockets of most Americans and the companies that create jobs; Obama believes such programs directly benefit the jobless. In a place like Lorain, Ohio, those trained by the program might appreciate the president’s support of it, while some of the area’s higher earners might not.
But by engaging the president on these issues in the states that will decide the battle for the Electoral College this fall, Romney is already making up some of the ground he lost throughout the bruising primary. While he doesn’t have the amount of staff the president does, this kind of messaging is allowing him, thus far, to even the score.
Obama had been leading Romney by double digits in most national polling for weeks, but a few more recent surveys show his advantage considerably reduced; it’s down to just two points in the RealClearPolitics Average. He still leads Romney by 8.6 points in RCP’s Ohio average, however.