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Emanuel frames election as choice, not as referendum on Obama

Updated at 2:55 pm ET Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff for the first two years of his presidency and helped guide President Bill Clinton to his second term victory in 1996, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that Mitt Romney’s speech last week at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. was “devoid and vacuous” of substantive ideas and noteworthy phrases.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a press conference in the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, Ill., July 9, 2012

“There is nothing memorable about Mitt Romney’s speech,” he said, and that, he argued, was one reason why people in the news media and elsewhere were talking more about actor/director Clint Eastwood’s rambling convention speech – which Emanuel called “bizarre” -- than about Romney’s.

As Democrats often do, Emanuel blamed President George W. Bush’s policies for the 2008-2010 recession, the housing crisis, and the downturn in automakers GM, Chrysler and Ford. “The president inherited those things,” Emanuel told NBC’s David Gregory.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks with NBC's David Gregory about the challenges President Obama faces in the 2012 race.

But now, Emanuel said, “through tough, hard work” by Obama, “the economy is not in a recession, (but it’s) not growing as fast as it needs to grow, the auto industry isn’t near collapse but actually is thriving, the financial industry that was once facing a meltdown is now actually starting, slowly but surely, lending again to homeowners, small businesses, and kids going to college. And do we stay on that course or the course that led to actually the disaster that he (Obama) inherited on Day One?”

President Barack Obama kicked off his "Road to Charlotte" tour with stops in multiple states on Saturday. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Emanuel said, “The president clearly understands the frustration the American people feel” because the economy is not growing quickly “and he is working on that to get this economy focused on the middle class.”

He also contended that the Nov. 6 election would be less a referendum on Obama’s performance than a choice between Republican economic proposals and Obama’s.

Emanuel said, for example, Romney would have allowed GM and Chrysler to go bankrupt in 2009 but Obama intervened to use federal money to resuscitate them.

Two days before the DNC convention, Republicans focus on the stagnant economy as Obama supporters spot holes in Romney's acceptance speech. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

“If people want to know about the first term, very simple: General Motors is alive and well and Osama bin Laden is not,” Emanuel said, echoing a line used by Vice President Joe Biden.

As Obama’s chief of staff in 2009 and 2010, Emanuel helped secure the passage of the big pieces of Obama’s agenda, the $830 billion stimulus, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, and the overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system.

In a statement Sunday, Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said, "Today, President Obama’s own surrogates admitted that we are not better off than we were four years ago. As the Chief of Staff in an administration whose failed policies have now left 23 million Americans struggling for work, Rahm Emanuel has no credibility when it comes to discussing the state of our economy or the state of our country."

As Obama heads into the DNC convention, some Democrats worry that he may be too confident. And in North Carolina, where the convention will take place, he will need to drive up support from women. NBC's Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell report.

Obama himself was campaigning Sunday in the hotly contested state of Colorado after a stop Saturday in another battleground state, Iowa, a state where he has campaigned seven times this year. And Obama will return to Iowa Friday for another campaign appearance.

Obama carried both Iowa and Colorado in 2008, each of them by 9 percentage points over GOP candidate Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz.

Obama will continue on Labor Day to Ohio, another battleground state which he carried by 4.6 percentage points in 2008, and then to Louisiana to inspect damage from Hurricane Isaac, before heading to Charlotte, N.C. for the Democratic convention.

The 6,000 Democratic delegates who will formally nominate Obama for a second term continued to stream in to Charlotte Sunday. Obama and Biden will address the delegates at the Bank of America stadium in Charlotte on Thursday night.

Then, the morning after Obama’s speech, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will issue the monthly jobs report for August. The most recent report for July showed that 12.8 million people were seeking work, with an 8.3 percent unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate peaked at 10 percent in October 2009 and has been above 8 percent for all but a few weeks of Obama’s presidency.