In a speech his campaign billed as a reset after a series of stumbles and a string of bad economic news, President Obama stuck to a long-established script Thursday with the only new line shifting the onus on voters to break open the partisan deadlock in Washington.
Focusing the choice away from his record in office, Mr. Obama fell back on his familiar refrain of casting himself as the champion of the middle class and warning of the slash-and-burn tactics that he says presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would put into place if elected — what he called two starkly different visions for fixing the economy.
“What’s holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take, and this election is your chance to break that stalemate,” Mr. Obama said Thursday in lengthy remarks at Cuyahoga Community College outside Cleveland.
Mr. Obama also directly addressed what could be his chief liability come November: the still-struggling economy.
“There is one place I stand in complete agreement with Mr. Romney,” Mr. Obama said. “This election is about our economic future.”
He said Mr. Romney’s economic plan consists mainly of trillions of dollars more in tax cuts, severe spending cuts, and lifting regulations on corporations, but claims to be the only candidate committed to protecting middle-income workers and saving programs they depend on to help pay their bills, keep down health care costs and send their children to college.
Moments earlier, about 250 miles away in Cincinnati, Mr. Romney delivered a stinging rebuke of the president’s record on handling the economy, accusing the president of being “long on words and short on action” with unemployment figures still topping 8 percent.
The president’s re-election campaign decided to have Mr. Obama deliver a major economic address “because he hasn’t delivered a recovery for the economy,” he said.
“He’s going to be saying today that he wants four more years,” he said. “He may have forgotten he talked about a one-term proposition if he couldn’t get the economy turned around in three years. But we’re going to hold him to his word.”
The president delivered the remarks at the same community college where Bill Clinton gave a campaign speech in 2010 and urged voters to give Democrats two more years to fix the nation’s economy.
“The Democrats are saying something like this: ‘We found a big hole that we did not dig. We didn’t get it filled in 21 months, but at least we quit digging,’ ” Mr. Clinton said at the time. ” ‘Give us two more years. If it doesn’t work, vote us out.’ “
Obama campaign operatives billed the speech as a pivotal moment for the campaign, a way to regain the offensive after a rough couple of weeks after May’s dismal jobs report, Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election and the president’s Friday comments that “the private sector is doing fine.”
Mr. Obama made light of his recent political misstep at the beginning of his speech.
“Over the next five months, this election will take many twists and many turns, polls will go up, and polls will go down,” he said. “There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies that keep both campaigns busy and give the press something to write about. You may have heard I recently made my own unique contribution to that process.”
Despite criticism in recent weeks from high-profile Democrats that Mr. Obama must do more than blame former President George W. Bush and the economic crisis he inherited from his predecessor, the president hewed closely to that theme Thursday.
In painstaking detail, Mr. Obama denounced the Bush-era economic and policy choices that Mr. Obama said Mr. Romney and Republicans support even though they led to the global economic crisis of late 2008 — tax cuts for the wealthy, deficit spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deregulation that allowed banks and corporations to run wild and swindle consumers.
“We were told that huge tax cuts — especially for the wealthiest Americans — would lead to faster job growth,” he said. “We were told that fewer regulations — especially for big financial institutions and corporations — would bring about widespread prosperity. We were told that it was OK to put two wars on the nation’s credit card, that tax cuts would create enough growth to pay for themselves. That’s what we were told. So how did this economic theory work out?”
“Terrible,” one member of the audience shouted out.
The crowd of roughly 1,500 chanted “Four more years” and “Fired up and ready to go” at the beginning of the speech and at times during it.
But there were few rousing applause lines and at times the hourlong remarks seemed to ramble and repeat various refrains Mr. Obama has been pushing for months, including his desire to “double-down on” spending on clean energy, technology, infrastructure and education as a way to help boost the economy.
Both Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Romney’s campaigns have dumped more money into Ohio than other states, and their dueling visits Thursday show just how strongly the two are competing for the state’s 18 electoral votes.
Ohio has played a critical role in determining the winner in the past few presidential contests. Mr. Obama won the state in 2008, and Mr. Bush took it in 2004. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.
Polls show the two men running neck and neck in Ohio with Mr. Obama ahead by a statistically insignificant 1percentage point. But Ohio, whose unemployment rate is 7.4 percent — nearly a full point below the national average — is faring better than many other areas of the country, and the Obama team is eager to credit the auto bailout as one of the reasons.
“When my opponent was arguing that we should let Detroit go bankrupt, we made a bet on American ingenuity, and today our auto industry is back,” Mr. Obama said.
The president planned to spend the evening at a star-studded fundraiser in Manhattan at the home of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick and co-hosted by Anna Wintour.