WEST ALLIS, Wis. — President Obama and Mitt Romney offered divergent closing arguments Friday in crucial battleground states, with Romney aiming for notes of optimism and grand purpose in Wisconsin, and Obama delivering a fiery critique in Ohio of both congressional Republicans and the Romney campaign.
Four days before voters settle what polls show to be a deadlocked race, Romney mixed scathing criticism of Obama with pledges of bipartisanship and rhetoric that his campaign described as loftier than previous stump speeches.
“I do not believe this is a moment when our big dreams will be satisfied with a small agenda,” Romney said. After a presidential election season that has centered so much on the negative and the trivial, he said, he was laying out a path that would “lead America to a better place.”
Obama “says it has to be this way; I say it can’t be this way. He’s offering excuses; I’ve got a plan. He’s hoping we’ll settle; I can’t wait for us to get started,” Romney told a crowd of 4,000 roaring supporters. “Americans don’t settle. We build, we aspire, we listen to that voice inside us that says, ‘We can do better.’ A better job. A better life for our kids. A bigger, better country.”
At the second of his three Ohio rallies Friday, Obama delivered a fervent version of his own closing argument to a similar number of supporters at a high school gym in Springfield. He pledged to work with Republicans in Congress in a second term but acknowledged there would still be some “struggles and fights.”
“I’m a very nice guy, people will tell you. I really am,” Obama said. But if “the price of peace in Washington” means cutting deals to slash student financial aid or give health-insurance companies more power, “I’m not going to make that deal,” he added. “That’s a price I’m not willing to pay.”
Turning up the volume as the crowd responded, Obama insisted: “That’s not bipartisanship. That’s not change. That’s surrender to the status quo.” And he pledged, “I am a long ways away from giving up on this fight. I got a lot of fight left in me. I don’t get tired. I don’t grow weary. I hope you aren’t tired either, Ohio.”
Romney’s 28-minute speech earlier in the day was described by advisers as the message he will deliver to voters as he barnstorms the battleground states this weekend. It was portrayed as having more loft than the speech Romney gave in accepting his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention in August.
The speech that political professionals call the closing argument is always a tricky balance aimed at inspiring the base to put their hearts into the last few days, but also at winning over the few voters who are still making up their minds.
“I will lead America to a better place, where confidence in the future is assured, not questioned,” Romney said. “This is not a time for America to settle. We’re four days away from a fresh start, four days away from the first day of a new beginning.”
But the Republican challenger also unleashed a sharply partisan attack, warning in the same speech that reelecting Obama would lead to another showdown in Congress next year over the debt ceiling, followed by a possible government shutdown and default on debts.
Obama, for his part, blasted Romney on Friday for using “scare” tactics in claiming that U.S. car companies are moving jobs to China. He accused Romney of frightening Americans with false claims of job losses “just to scare up some votes.”
Appearing in the town of Hilliard, about 12 miles northwest of Columbus in the critical battleground of central Ohio, Obama made his first extended remarks about a Romney television commercial that is in heavy rotation in the state. Saying that General Motors and Chrysler are expanding in China, it may leave some Ohioans with the impression that U.S. jobs, including at Toledo-based Jeep, are moving there.
Democrats have attacked the ad as untrue, and independent analysts, including The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, have criticized it as, at the least, misleading. Chrysler announced a year ago it would add 1,100 jobs at its Toledo plant.
Obama told a crowd of 2,800 at the Franklin County Fairgrounds that the ad has prompted workers at the Jeep plant to call their employers asking if they will lose their jobs.
“The reason they’re making the calls is because Governor Romney is running an ad that says so. Except it’s not true,” Obama said. “The car companies themselves have told Governor Romney to knock it off. GM said we think creating jobs in the United States should be a source of bipartisan pride. I could not agree more.”
Romney aides have said they are confident their candidate has momentum and will win Ohio. They say the wording of the ad is accurate and provides important context on an issue Obama has run on for months.
Obama began delivering his closing argument Thursday, telling voters that he is the candidate they can trust because they have known him for four years and because he will fight for the middle class. He argued that Romney is not the candidate of change because he shifts positions and wants to return to the policies of the George W. Bush era.
Obama’s appearance in Hilliard was his first of three rallies in the state Friday, and he will appear in Ohio each of the next three days, underscoring the importance of a swing state with 18 electoral votes that is considered a near must-win for both campaigns. The president has continued to remind Ohio voters that Romney did not support his administration’s federal bailout of Chrysler and GM three years ago. Romney wrote an op-ed article at the time calling for a managed bankruptcy.
“I understand Governor Romney is having a tough time here in Ohio because he was against saving the U.S. auto industry, and it’s hard to run away from it when you’re on tape saying, ‘Let the auto industry go bankrupt,’” Obama said. “I know we’re close to an election, but this is not a game. You don’t scare hardworking Americans just to scare up some votes. That’s not what being president is all about. That’s not leadership.”
In a speech in West Allis, Wis., Romney raised the prospect that Obama, if reelected, would again run into trouble with congressional Republicans on such matters as raising the ceiling on the national debt to enable the government to pay its bills.
“You know that if the president is reelected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress,” Romney said. “He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.”
Romney added: “When I am elected, I will work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress.... I will endeavor to find those good men and women on both sides of the aisle that care more about the country than about the politics.”
Democrats say it was congressional Republicans who forced a showdown on the debt ceiling in 2011 that alarmed investors, credit-rating agencies and foreign capitals before a deficit-reduction deal was reached. The standoff led to a costly credit rating downgrade and stuck taxpayers with $1.3 billion last year in increased borrowing costs, the Government Accountability Office reported.
In his “closing argument” speech, Romney also sought to portray himself as the embodiment of change, accusing Obama of failing to deliver on his main campaign promise from 2008.
Romney said Obama “promised change, but he could not deliver it,” accusing him of wasting time blaming former president George W. Bush and ignoring and attacking Republicans in Congress. Romney charged that the president had waged “war” on the coal, oil and natural gas industries, and that he sees business as “a necessary evil.”
“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.”
If elected, he pledged, “I won’t waste any time complaining about my predecessor. I won’t spend my effort trying to pass partisan legislation unrelated to economic growth. From Day One, I will go to work to help Americans get back to work.”
“We are four days away from a fresh start,” Romney told supporters. “Four days away from the first day of a new beginning. My conviction that better days are ahead is not based on promises and hollow rhetoric but solid plans and proven results.”
On a day when Obama pointed to the second straight month of unemployment below 8 percent as evidence that the country was making real progress, Romney warned that “unless we change course, we may well be looking at another recession.”
Romney chose to debut his closing argument in Wisconsin, a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984 but whose 10 electoral votes now are central to both campaigns’ calculations.
Romney hopes the deep ground organization that Republican Gov. Scott Walker built in Wisconsin earlier this year to fend off a recall effort — as well as his selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) as his vice presidential running mate — will pay dividends at the polls on Tuesday.
And Romney’s effort may have received a boost when Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr endorsed him, quoting legendary coach Vince Lombardi in describing the leadership attributes and character that Starr said Romney possess.
Nakamura reported from Hilliard and Springfield, Ohio. William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.