President Barack Obama cast his re-election race against likely Republican challenger Mitt Romney as the choice of a lifetime, asking Americans to buy into his vision for four more years or face a return to the recession-era "mistakes of the past."
From opposite ends of Ohio, a state vital to both of their political futures, Romney and Obama dueled Thursday in economic speeches that set the tone for the final five months of debate. The pitches were the political foes' familiar, fundamentally different takes on how to get the economy soaring again.
"That's what is at stake right now," Obama said in his most detailed case for a second term. "Everything else is just noise."
Romney went first from Cincinnati, a Republican stronghold in the state, and he described Obama's administration as the very "enemy" of people who create jobs.
"If you think the president's right when he said the private sector is doing fine, then he's the guy to vote for," Romney said. But he questioned why anyone would do that, saying if the job isn't getting done, pick "someone who can do a better job."
The backdrop was Ohio, seen by political strategists as a state that could swing the election.
It went to Obama last time, and George W. Bush before that, and it remains crucial for both competitors this year — particularly Romney. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.
Romney gave what amounted to his standard speech, albeit realigned as a prebuttal as Obama was pulling into his event site at the top of the state. Given the tight presidential race and the enormous interest in the economy, the two speeches offered anticipation of a big campaign moment, but the substance yielded little new.
Romney castigated the president for the economic stimulus, the health care reform law and for not approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Romney also criticized the president's policies toward China and said that, if elected, he would label the country as a currency manipulator.
Obama's team closely monitored Romney's event in Ohio. "Threatening to label China a currency manipulator is reckless and unnecessary," Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement after Romney's speech. She called Romney's positions on China a "campaign-year conversion."
The campaign appearances mark the first time Obama and Romney have taken their message to the same state on the same day. Ohio is key to the election hopes of both candidates. With less than five months remaining until the Nov. 6 election, they are virtually tied in the polls.
New reports on the economy Thursday brought little optimism, with weekly applications for unemployment aid inching up and a broad measure of trade, the U.S. current account trade deficit, widening in the first three months of the year for the largest imbalance since late 2008.