President Obama on Thursday portrayed his fight for re-election as a choice between the preservation of a thriving middle class under his continued leadership and a nation, led by Republican Mitt Romney, in which the rich continued to prosper at the expense of everyone else.
"If you believe this economy grows best when everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules, then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as president," Obama said in an hour-long address in Ohio. "If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney."
Speaking to a friendly crowd of 1,500 at a community college in Cleveland, Obama blamed the unrelenting recession on a decade of Republican control in Washington and the weak recovery on a Congress gridlocked by Republicans intent on thwarting his agenda.
"The only thing that can break the stalemate is you," Obama told his supporters. "This November is your chance to render a verdict on the debate over how to grow the economy, how to create good jobs, how to pay down our deficit."
The president is proposing to end tax cuts for people who earn more than $200,000 a year and to invest trillions of dollars in education, medical research and green-energy initiatives that he said would help put Americans back to work.
Romney has dismissed Obama's economic proposals, saying they penalize job creators and rely too heavily on government, rather than the private sector, to revitalize the economy.
Romney has proposed rolling back federal regulations on businesses, slashing federal spending and extending tax cuts for all Americans. Obama charged that those very sorts of initiatives, implemented by President George W. Bush and Republicans over the past decade, have failed.
"Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory we tried during the last decade, the theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down," Obama said. "We tried this. Their policies did not grow the economy. They did not grow the middle class. They did not reduce our debt."
Romney sought to counter what was portrayed as a major economic address by Obama with his own speech just across the state in Cincinnati.
"You may have heard that President Obama is on the other side of the state and he's going to be delivering a speech on the economy," Romney said, minutes before Obama began his remarks. "He's doing that because he hasn't delivered a recovery for the economy. And he's going to be a person of eloquence as he describes his plans for making the economy better, but don't forget he's been president for three and a half years, and talk is cheap. Actions speak very loud."
Even as he wrestles with persistent joblessness, including a slight increase in the unemployment rate over the past month, Obama insisted that things would be worse if Republicans were still guiding the nation.
"The debate in this election is about how we grow faster, and how we create more jobs, and how we pay down our debt," Obama said. "That's the question facing the American voter. And in this election, you have two very different visions to choose from."