President Obama criticized Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts,… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais,…)
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts was the focal point of presidential campaign sparring on Saturday, with the GOP nominee boasting that he worked across the aisle to close a multibillion-dollar budget gap and President Obama arguing that his tenure benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
Romney, speaking to thousands in a plane hangar in Kissimmee, said Washington needed bipartisan collaboration to fix the nation's problems, and he pointed to his record in Massachusetts working with a legislature that was 85% Democratic.
"We didn't go to work fighting each other; we came to work to work together. We found a way to do that. So we cut spending, we actually reduced the amount of money government was spending. And then we cut taxes 19 times," Romney said. "We made our state more business-friendly."
The end result, he said, was that a $3-billion budget gap turned into a $2-billion rainy-day fund and the state's job growth improved.
"Those principles could work to get America together. We've got to do it. We can't do this without the help of the people across the aisle," he said.
While he made the case that his Massachusetts formula could be used to "get America together," Romney omitted key elements — including that he increased corporate taxes and state fees by $750 million a year, outstripping his tax cuts, and was reluctant to engage with legislators. (He also has embraced the GOP's stalwart objections in Congress to Democratic proposals.)
Obama, almost within shouting distance of the Bay State's border in Nashua, N.H., said Romney's record was instead proof that the GOP nominee's budget plan would squeeze the middle class.
Campaigning in front of thousands outside a school, Obama said Romney's promises of "big change" were only a "rerun" of failed policies.
Romney is "making a lot of last-minute promises lately," claiming he would "cut taxes for everybody and ask something from nobody," Obama said.
"But the problem is, we've heard those promises before," he said. "During Gov. Romney's campaign for governor down there, he promised the same thing he's promising now. … But once he took office, he pushed through a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefited 278 of the wealthiest families in the state, and then he raised taxes and fees on middle-class families to the tune of $750 million. Does that sound familiar to you?"
The president noted that Romney's revenue hikes covered everything from gas and milk to marriage and birth certificates. The latter "would have been expensive for me," Obama quipped, referring to the inaccurate claims about his birthplace that prompted him to release his long-form birth records.
With 10 days to go until election day and voters already hitting the polls in many states, the campaigns were also forced to scramble because of an October surprise from Mother Nature. Hurricane Sandy is hurtling toward an East Coast landfall early in the week, prompting Romney to cancel a Sunday swing through Virginia, after consulting with Gov. Bob McDonnell.
"He said, 'You know, the first responders really need to focus on preparation for the storm,' so we're not going to be able to be in Virginia tomorrow; we're going to Ohio instead," Romney told Floridians. "But I hope you'll keep the folks in Virginia and New Jersey and New York and all along the coast in your minds and in your hearts. You know how tough these hurricanes can be, and our hearts goes out to them."
Vice President Joe Biden also canceled an event because of the storm, and his son, Delaware's attorney general, had to cancel an appearance because his National Guard unit was activated to assist with that state's response.
Obama altered his travel plans because of the storm, which is expected to cause flooding and power outages. He began his Saturday with a briefing by his homeland security and emergency management teams, telling officials to make sure there were "no unmet needs" as states prepared for the storm. The federal government response to Sandy is likely to be heavily scrutinized as early voters make their decision.
But Obama and Romney both made it Saturday to key states in a race that is coming down to the wire.
Romney appeared in Florida on the first day of early voting, and urged his supporters to go to the polls.
"Today you can go vote. And it helps for you to vote now because the earlier you vote, the more help you can give us getting other people to the polls because we're going to have to turn out our people," he said. "We need to get people who care about America to go to the polls and vote."
And Obama's appearance in New Hampshire, the second in 10 days, coincided with the state's deadline for advance voter registration. Residents can also sign up to vote on election day.
New Hampshire has four electoral votes, the fewest among the most-contested states, but enough to warrant increasing attention from both campaigns, with Biden visiting on Monday and Romney on Tuesday.
"New Hampshire is going to be very important," Obama told union workers at a stop en route to the Nashua rally. "We don't know how this thing is going to play out, [and] these four electoral votes right here could make the difference."
Christi Parsons in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.