Updated 2:35 p.m. ET -- Four days before voters head to the polls, President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney sought to bring their different economic visions into sharp relief before throngs of Midwestern voters who could decide the election.
Romney, who delivered on Friday what he said was the “closing argument” of his campaign, said the economy was hopelessly mired in stagnation under Obama, and promised to deliver “real change” if elected.
Jim Young / Reuters
Supporters of Mitt Romney gesture at a campaign rally in West Allis, Wis., Nov. 2, 2012.
Obama pointed to green shoots of economic recovery while barnstorming battleground Ohio, accusing his Republican opponent of deception on the question of change, as well as the 2009 auto industry rescue that could swing the outcome of the election.
Romney started the day with a speech in the battleground state of Wisconsin, assailing Obama for having failed at his promise to change Washington; Romney said his experience in the private sector and as governor of Massachusetts has shown he can boost the economy and bridge partisan divides that have grinded lawmaking in the nation’s capital to a virtual halt.
“The question of this election comes down to this: do you want more of the same or do you want real change?” Romney asked. “President Obama promised change, but he could not deliver it. I promise change, and I have a record of achieving it.”
A robust campaign schedule for Obama and Romney, along with their running mates, brought the campaign back to its central issue -- jobs and the economy -- just as a key monthly employment report showed that the U.S. added more jobs than expected in October. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the economy added 171,000 jobs last month -- though the unemployment rate inched upward to 7.9 percent as the size of the American workforce grew.
“This morning we learned that companies hired more workers in October than at any time in the last eight months,” Obama said at a Friday rally in Ohio. “We've made real progress, but we are here today because we know we've got more work to do. As long as there's a single American who wants a job but can't find one ... our fight goes on.”
The stasis in campaigning that set in following the landfall of Hurricane Sandy earlier this week had all but faded Friday, as both campaigns resumed their full-throated critiques of one another.
Romney sought to wrest the mantle of “change” away from Obama, continuing on a theme he has stressed in recent weeks, and going so far as warning on Friday that if the U.S. doesn't change course, it could risk slipping back into recession.
Obama has long blamed Republican obstructionism and special interests for impeding his agenda, and thereby, the pace of economic recovery.
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney rallies in West Allis, Wisconsin criticizing President Obama failed policies.
Romney, who made his first stop in Wisconsin since naming Paul Ryan, a congressman from the state, as his running mate, suggested his experience as governor of Massachusetts and a former private equity executive would help him succeed where Obama had failed.
"I have watched over these last few months as our campaign has gathered the strength of a movement," Romney said. "I will reach out to both sides of the aisle. I will bring people together, doing big things for the common good. I won’t just represent one party, I’ll represent one nation. I’ll try to show the best of America, at a time when only our best will do."
Romney traveled next to Ohio, where he would join Obama in courting the vote of the Buckeye State -- a pivotal Midwestern battleground where the outcome could determine the winner of the Electoral College.
There, the president upbraided Romney on the notion that the Republican nominee could deliver change, ridiculing the GOP nominee’s proposals as little more than warmed-over leftovers from the Bush administration.
At a campaign event in Hilliard, Ohio, President Obama criticized Governor Romney's message of change, saying the GOP presidential candidate is "a very talented salesman."
“We know what the right choice is, but let's face it, Gov. Romney is a talented salesman,” he said, accusing his Republican opponent of repackaging tired GOP ideas. “We know what change looks like, and what the governor's offering ain't it.”
The Obama campaign has relied on Ohio to serve as a kind of “firewall” for the president, concentrating for months on building an advantage over Romney in hopes of impeding the GOP candidate’s path to 270 electoral votes. Obama has led Romney by a slim, but consistent, margin in most public polls, prompting the Republican ticket to ratchet up its attacks on the administration’s handling of the auto industry bailout.
Romney’s offensive includes a series of new ads taking aim at the president on the issue of the auto industry bailout, stoking (incorrect) fears that Jeep would move production and jobs from the U.S. to China.
Those suggestions earned him a strong rebuke from both the president, as well as Vice President Biden, who campaigned in Wisconsin, a state that has reliably supported Democrats in recent presidential cycles.
With Election Day looming, the state of Ohio has become the game-changer with President Obama and Mitt Romney planning six visits in the last four days of the presidential race. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
"Everyone knows it’s not true. The car companies themselves have told Gov. Romney to knock it off," Obama said of the ads, accusing Romney of trying to scare the state’s autoworkers. "You don’t scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes. That’s not what being president is all about. That’s not leadership."
Biden, speaking in Beloit, went a step further: “In the last hours of this campaign, Romney and Ryan have become truly desperate. Romney will say anything to win.”
But Republicans returned to the issue of employment, arguing Friday that the employment situation had scarcely improved over the last four years, and hardly matched the White House’s projections upon selling its stimulus package in January of 2009. That, they said, justified Obama’s expulsion from office.
“In the president’s campaign for another term, he has offered nothing different and if he is re-elected, nothing different is exactly what we would get,” Ryan said at a rally in Colorado. “And we are not going to let him get away with that are we?”