Mitt Romney supporters rally at a high school in Westerville, Ohio, a stop… (Alex Wong, Getty Images )
BEDFORD HEIGHTS, Ohio — President Obama and Mitt Romney hurled accusations at each other over their economic visions and trade policies as they sprinted across Ohio on Wednesday, a reflection of the fierce campaign being waged in this battleground state.
Days before the two men meet for their first presidential debate, Romney said that Obama had failed to lead and that he would not be able to paper over his record with his oratorical skills.
"A lot of people can talk. Talk is cheap," Romney told thousands of people gathered at a wire manufacturer here. "You can be extraordinarily eloquent and describe all the wonderful things you can do, but when you cut through the words you can look at the record, and when you can see policies that have not created the jobs America needs, then you know it's time to choose a new leader, get a new coach, get America growing again."
Romney pledged that if elected, he would crack down on China for unfair trade practices that have led American manufacturers to shut down factories and lay off workers.
"That is why one thing I will do from Day One is label China a currency manipulator," he said — a step that would trigger fresh negotiations and possibly U.S. sanctions, but might also set off a trade war.
He made the comment while holding a business round table at a firm that benefited from actions the Obama administration's Commerce Department took against Chinese firms in a trade case, CNN reported.
Obama, speaking to thousands of college students in Bowling Green, said Romney's former investment firm invested in Chinese companies and that the former Massachusetts governor had profited at the expense of American jobs.
"He's been talking tough on China. He says he's going to take the fight to them," Obama said. "When you hear this newfound outrage … it feels a lot like that fox saying, 'We need more secure chicken coops.' I mean, it's just not credible."
Obama argued that he had brought more such trade cases in one term than the previous administration did in two. The president last week also filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization accusing China of illegally subsidizing exports of automobile parts.
"By the way, we've been winning those cases," Obama said. "We've stood up for autoworkers against unfair trade practices. When Gov. Romney said stopping an unfair surge in Chinese tires would be bad for America, bad for our workers — we politely declined his advice. We went after China on that, and we got over 1,000 American workers back to work producing American tires."
But Republicans complained that a new Obama ad on China was "hypocritical" and questioned Obama's record in fighting the Chinese government's continued manipulation of currency. In 2008, Obama promised to "use all diplomatic means" to address China's currency, but he has not slapped the manipulator label on China.
The two candidates have sparred over China and trade for weeks, part of an effort to woo working-class voters in the Rust Belt. The region has seen thousands of manufacturing jobs move to China, where companies often benefit from government subsidies, export incentives and artificially low currency.
Ohio is crucial for Romney's bid — no GOP nominee has won the White House without winning the state. But polling shows that Ohioans are increasingly breaking for Obama, including a CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday that showed the president up by 10 percentage points. The Romney campaign says its internal polling shows a closer race.
Romney started Wednesday with a morning rally in a suburb of Columbus, a region that supported Obama in 2008 and President George W. Bush in 2004, and then held the business round table in a Cleveland suburb before an evening rally in Toledo. Obama courted young voters at two college campuses.
Romney's chances in Ohio are in part complicated by the fact that the state's economy is recovering faster than the nation's, which Gov. John Kasich alluded to as he introduced the GOP nominee in Westerville.
"I hope you all know that Ohio's coming back. From 48th in job creation to No. 4. No. 1 in the Midwest. From 89 cents in a rainy-day fund to a half a million dollars, and we have grown 123,000 jobs in the state of Ohio. Our families are going back to work," Kasich said. "But every day I have to face the head winds that come from Washington."
Romney emphasized the burgeoning federal debt as a billboard displayed the nation's debt growing throughout the rally. He predicted that if Obama was reelected, the debt — currently more than $16 trillion — would grow to nearly $20 trillion.
"Those debts get passed on to our kids," he said. "It's not just bad for the economy; it's not just bad for our job creation.... In my opinion, it is immoral for us to pass on obligations like that to the next generation."
Romney said his "heart aches" from the struggles of people he has met on the campaign trail, and pledged to prioritize job creation and training along with cutting and simplifying income taxes, with a caveat.
"By the way, don't be expecting a huge cut in taxes, because I'm also going to lower deductions and exemptions," he said. "But by bringing rates down we'll be able to let small businesses keep more of their money so they can hire more people. My priority is jobs, and I'll make it happen."
Romney's plan is flawed, Obama said.
"They can't say how they'd pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts without raising taxes on middle-class families," he told the crowd in Bowling Green. "They can't explain how they're going to pay for $2 trillion in new military spending that our military has said won't make us safer. They can't explain it because the math doesn't add up."
Mehta reported from Bedford Heights, Parsons from Bowling Green.