President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney roar into the 2012 presidential campaign’s final weekend deadlocked, offering closing arguments laced with very different visions of how they’d govern.
Friday’s unemployment data gave both candidates fresh ammunition. The economy added 171,000 jobs last month, but the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent as more Americans went back into the labor market looking for work. No president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, during the Great Depression, has been won a second term when the Election Day jobless rate was that high.
"Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill," Romney said in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee.
Romney insisted to an audience packed into the Wisconsin Products Pavilion of the fairgrounds that he can uniquely work with Democrats, a pitch to the center as analysts forecast that Democrats have an excellent chance of retaining control of the Senate.
"The president was right when he said he can’t change Washington from the inside," Romney said. "In this case, you take him at his word.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quickly scoffed at Romney’s quest for bipartisanship. "Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his ‘severely conservative’ agenda is laughable," Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.
Romney argued that as a business executive and former governor of Massachusetts, he has the leadership skills and the knowhow to lead the country out of its economic doldrums.
"When I am elected, the economy and American jobs will still be stagnant. I won’t waste any time complaining about my predecessor. . . . From Day One, I will go to work to help Americans get back to work," he vowed.
His message to the crowd in this swing state, where Obama leads by 5 percentage points, according to the average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, was to consider what Obama hasn’t done.
"Change cannot be measured in speeches; it is measured in achievements," Romney said. "Four years ago, candidate Obama promised to do so very much, but he has fallen so very short."
In what was billed as a closing argument, Romney offered broad strokes.
"If there is anyone worried the last four years are the best we can do, if there is anyone who fears that the American dream is fading away, if there is anyone who wonders whether better jobs and better paychecks are things of the past, I have a clear and unequivocal message: With the right leadership, America will come roaring back," he said.
Obama spent his day in Ohio, stressing that the economy is growing and reminding voters in the state – where one in eight jobs is linked to the auto industry – of his support of the auto bailout. Romney in a 2008 op-ed urged "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Ohio’s economy has improved in recent years, and its jobless rate has been below the national average.
Romney’s campaign has been running a controversial ad in the state claiming Chrysler was sold to "Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China," leaving viewers to surmise that’ll cost Americans jobs.
PolitiFact, an independent analyst, found the ad "ignores the return of American jobs to Chrysler Jeep plants in the United States, and it presents the manufacture of Jeeps in China as a threat, rather than an opportunity to sell cars made in China to Chinese consumers" and "strings together facts in a way that presents a wholly inaccurate picture."
Obama joined that chorus.
"You don’t scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes. That’s not what being president is all about," Obama said.
"After four years as president, you know me," he said. "You may not agree with every decision I’ve made. You may be frustrated sometimes at the pace of change. But you know what I believe."
He also reached for broader themes. "As long as there’s a single American who wants a job and can’t find one; as long as there are families working harder but falling behind; as long as there’s a child anywhere in this country who’s languishing in poverty, and barred from opportunity, our fight goes on," the president said.