SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Striking a new tone, President Obama four days ahead of his reelection test told voters Friday that he “loves” working with Republicans.
Facing criticism from Republican rival Mitt Romney that he has failed to govern in a bipartisan manner, Mr. Obama tried to convince Ohioans that he is willing and eager to cross the aisle to break gridlock in Washington in his second term.
“When the other party has been with me to help middle-class families, I love working with them,” the president told about 4,000 supporters at a high school gym in Springfield, Ohio. “When we cut taxes for middle-class families and small businesses, some of them cooperated. When we came together to repeal ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ there were some courageous Republican senators who stood up. I appreciate that. I will work with anybody of any party to move this country forward.”
Mr. Romney, campaigning in Wisconsin, said the president has fallen short on his promises, including a pledge in 2008 to “change the tone” in Washington.
“He promised to be a ‘post-partisan president’ but he became the most partisan — blaming, attacking, dividing,” Mr. Romney said.
Both candidates are making appeals in the campaign’s final weekend to independent voters, who according to pollsters give high marks to candidates who support bipartisanship. But even as Mr. Obama touted his efforts to work with Republicans, the president warned that he is only willing to go so far in search of legislative deals.
“I want everybody to be clear, there are still going to be some struggles and some fights,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m a very nice guy, people will tell you. But if the price of peace in Washington is cutting deals that kick students off financial aid or get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood or let insurance companies discriminate against people with preexisting conditions … I’ll fight against that deal. That’s not bipartisanship. I’m a long ways away from giving up on this fight. I’ve got a lot of fight left in me. I don’t get tired.”
With his reelection hinging in large on the economy, Mr. Obama also put the best face on a mixed jobs report Friday that saw solid job growth but also an uptick in the national jobless rate to 7.9 percent. He told voters in this crucial battleground state that his administration has made progress putting people back to work.
“This morning we learned that companies hired more workers in October than at any time in the last eight months,” Mr. Obama told about 2,800 people in a fairgrounds barn. “We’ve got more work to do.”
In the final jobs report before Tuesday’s election, the government said Friday that 171,000 jobs were created in October, a figure better than most analysts expected. But the unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent, and the number of unemployed rose by 170,000, to about 12.3 million Americans, as more people rejoined the labor force.
Mr. Romney called the unemployment news “a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill.”
“The jobless rate is higher than it was when President Obama took office, and there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work,” Mr. Romney said in a statement. “On Tuesday, America will make a choice between stagnation and prosperity. … For four years, President Obama has told us that things are getting better and that we’re making progress. For too many American families, those words ring hollow.”
Ohio is the biggest battleground prize, and Mr. Obama spent all day in the state, with stops in Hilliard, Lima and Springfield. With much of the battle focused on the state’s large auto manufacturing industry, the president criticized a Romney television ad appearing to imply that Chrysler was planning to move Jeep manufacturing jobs from Ohio to China — a charge that Chrysler officials have denied. Mr. Obama tried to tie the ad to Mr. Romney’s opposition to his plan for a direct taxpayer bailout of the auto industry in 2009, and said he had heard some Chrysler workers had actually contacted their bosses fearful that they were losing their jobs.
“It’s not true,” Mr. Obama said. “I understand that Gov. Romney’s had a tough time in Ohio because he was against saving the auto industry. I know we’re close to an election, but this isn’t a game. These are people’s jobs. These are people’s lives. You don’t scare hard-working Americans just to scare up some votes. That’s not what being president’s all about.”
With Ohio’s 18 electoral votes up for grabs, both candidates will campaign here several times heading into the final weekend of the race. Both campaigns are counting on Ohio as the linchpin in their paths to victory in the Electoral College. No Republican candidate has won the presidency in modern times without carrying Ohio.
“Ohio is at the tip of the spear, and the world and the nation know that Ohio is the firewall for President Barack Obama,” Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland told the crowd in a chilly, dusty barn at the Franklin County fairgrounds. He said Mr. Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin “don’t even know how to fake compassion.” The governor ridiculed Mr. Ryan’s recent photo-op washing dishes at a soup kitchen in Ohio, and Mr. Romney’s effort collecting non-perishable goods for the Red Cross to distribute to victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Mr. Strickland criticized Mr. Romney for “getting his picture taken loading boxes on a truck. Send money, send money to the American Red Cross.”
A new Reuters-Ipsos on Friday found Mr. Obama with a small lead, 47 percent to 45 percent over Mr. Romney in Ohio, although the two are dead even nationally. The Real Clear Politics average of polls also shows Mr. Obama ahead slightly, 48.9 percent to 46.6 percent.
As the president’s motorcade pulled away from the fairgrounds in Hilliard, he was greeted by someone hold a cardboard sign proclaiming: “Benghazi — Don’t Stand Down to Terrorists,” a reference to media reports that U.S. officials failed to send reinforcements immediately while the U.S. consulate in Libya was under attack in September. Four Americans died, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Again in Springfield, the president was greeted by several people holding signs protesting the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack, including “Angry Ohio patriot” and “Pretty little liars.”