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.
Republicans derided the effort as a "repackaging" of the same policies that haven't worked for the past four years, following criticism that Mr. Obama has failed to lay out an agenda for a second term.
The second tactic that the president and his surrogates hit hard Tuesday was the notion that Mr. Romney would be a dangerously inept commander in chief.
"In a world of new threats and profound challenges, America needs leadership that is strong and steady," Mr. Obama told nearly 10,000 boisterous supporters at an outdoor tennis stadium in Delray Beach, Fla., on Tuesday morning. "Gov. Romney's foreign policy has been wrong and reckless."
The president's rally in South Florida followed his third and final debate Monday night with Mr. Romney.
Since the first debate, the president's polling advantage in some crucial states such as Florida have disappeared. Especially after his lackluster performance in the first debate on Oct. 3, Mr. Obama has been trying to regain his footing as he has fallen behind the Republican in some national polls.
The president ridiculed Mr. Romney's foreign policy pronouncements Tuesday as being "all over the map."
"During the debate, he said he didn't want more troops in Iraq, but he was caught on video saying it was unthinkable not to leave 20,000 troops in Iraq, troops that would still be there today," Mr. Obama said. "Early in this campaign, he said he'd do the opposite of whatever I do in Israel. But last night I reminded him that cooperation with Israel has never been stronger."
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Mr. Romney "convincingly' won the foreign policy debate.
"The American people saw an experienced executive and leader with a strong command of foreign policy who could be the next commander in chief," she said. "While Gov. Romney laid out a clear, optimistic vision for America based on a strong economy, President Obama still failed to lay out a second-term agenda or put forth any new ideas for the future."
The president began a three-day campaign swing, twice to Ohio, and to Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida again and Virginia. In between those campaign stops, Mr. Obama will find time to tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno in Los Angeles and to vote early in Chicago.
In Florida and across the country Tuesday, Mr. Obama and his supporters fanned out with the message that the president is the more experienced hand at foreign policy.
The Obama campaign's heightened focus on the president's experience in international affairs underscored advisers' concern that Mr. Obama has lost some of his foreign policy edge over Mr. Romney in polls.
A month ago, the president had a clear advantage among likely voters on foreign policy. But after the terrorist attack in Libya on Sept. 11 that killed four Americans, and the administration's shifting explanations for the assault, the president has lost much of his edge over Mr. Romney on the question of who would be a better commander in chief.
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, appearing at the rally in Delray Beach, said the president "knows you only have once chance to get it right."
Rep. Theodore E. Deutch, Florida Democrat, said Mr. Obama made it clear in the debate that "his administration and this great country stand with our ally Israel."
The president's supporters also chided Mr. Romney for giving what they said was short shrift to military veterans in the final debate on foreign policy Monday night.
"Mitt Romney failed to mention our veterans even once during a 90-minute debate focused on foreign policy, wars abroad and America's future in the world," said Rob Diamond, the Obama campaign's vote director for veterans and military families. "While Mitt Romney wrote off half of our country as people who see themselves as ‘victims,' which includes veterans receiving the benefits they've earned, President Obama understands that war has consequences and that we have an obligation to our service members, not just when they are serving, but when they return home as well."
However, Mr. Ryan said the Republican nominee showed in the debate that he would be a more effective steward of America's foreign policy. He said voters got from Mr. Romney "clear answers, a clear vision for foreign policy, very clear distinctions and how we should go forward with this country."
"What we got from President Obama were mostly attacks on Mitt Romney. That's not an agenda,” Mr. Ryan said on "Good Morning America,” paraphrasing a line from Mr. Romney on Monday night. "We really actually didn't get an agenda for how we should move our country forward on foreign policy."
The debates also have helped to boost Mr. Romney's likability, according to polls, another area in which the president had been far ahead of the Republican in public-opinion surveys.
Gary Berg of Boca Raton, a retiree who said he is a "big time" Obama supporter, agreed that Mr. Romney has become "a little bit” more likable as a result of the debates.
"He came off a little more articulate than we'd ever seen him before," Mr. Berg said at the rally for the president in Florida. "His previous debate performances within the Republican Party were just average. I think he got coached pretty well and was able to do a little better [in the debates against the president]. And Obama didn't necessarily have his best performance, especially in the first one. So by contrast, yes, he looked OK. Romney presents himself well, so that has helped him, too."
Mr. Romney this week moved above 50 percent in his favorability rating in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, pulling ahead of Mr. Obama for the first time on that measure.
The Republican had a 44.5 percent favorability rating at the end of September, before the debates. But by Monday, Mr. Romney's favorability average was up to 50.5 percent.
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Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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