DAYTON, Ohio — Leaving behind the string of presidential debates that have put his re-election bid in doubt, President Obama embarked Tuesday on a blitz of battleground states in the final two weeks of the campaign, promoting an economic plan for a second term and portraying Republican rival Mitt Romney as unpatriotic and unprepared to lead.
With the race closer than ever, thanks in part to Mr. Obama’s mixed performance in debating, the Obama campaign launched a multimedia advertising offensive focusing on “economic patriotism,” detailing the president’s plan for economic recovery with millions of direct-mail leaflets and 60-second TV ads in nine battleground states.
Needing to secure hotly contested states such as Ohio, part of the president’s theme is that Mr. Romney lacks confidence in American workers, accusing the Republican of wanting to allow U.S. automakers to go bankrupt during the recession.
It was a point that Vice President Joseph R. Biden relished driving home during a joint appearance with Mr. Obama in Dayton.
“I’ve never met two guys who were more down on America,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “Every time I turn around, [they say] ‘America’s in decline,’ ‘American people won’t take responsibility.’ I don’t know where they live, but it’s not where we live. Regardless of what our opponents say, America is not in decline. Americans are not a dependent people. We’re independent. We take responsibility.”
The president told Ohioans that Mr. Romney “looked you right in the eye, looked me in the eye, tried to pretend he never said ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt.’
“The people of Ohio don’t forget,” Mr. Obama said. “If Mitt Romney had been president when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse, we might not have an American auto industry today. I bet on American workers. I understand that American workers can compete.”
In a New York Times op-ed in November 2008, Mr. Romney wrote that he favored a “managed bankruptcy” that would give Detroit a “path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs.” This was more or less what happened eventually, albeit under government auspices. Contrary to what Mr. Obama has said, Mr. Romney never proposed the liquidation of General Motors Co. or Chrysler LLC.
Mr. Romney, campaigning in Nevada and Colorado, said the debates have “supercharged” his supporters even as Mr. Obama’s campaign is “taking on water.”
“He’s been reduced to trying to defend characters on ‘Sesame Street,’” the Republican presidential nominee told supporters who overflowed the Henderson Pavilion in the Las Vegas suburbs.
Mr. Ryan joined him at the events, where the Republican ticket gloated over Mr. Romney’s performances in all three debates.
“Look, the president has run out of ideas,” Mr. Ryan said. “That’s why he’s running a small campaign about small things and hoping he can distract people from the reality in front of us.”
Trying to convince voters that he is more concerned about Americans’ economic welfare, Mr. Obama put out a five-point economic plan that he will emphasize over the campaign’s final two weeks. The plan has no new proposals, and even the president seemed to acknowledge that the effort was more about crafting a fresher campaign message than forging a new agenda.
“Throughout this campaign, I’ve laid out a plan for jobs and middle-class security,” Mr. Obama said. “I want to talk about what’s in my plan, just so everybody knows exactly what I intend to do over the next four years.”
It includes reducing dependency on foreign oil, encouraging American manufacturing and cutting the deficit, all items that the president has attempted in his first term but hasn’t sunk in with some voters.