WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sought to strike an implicit contrast with his most likely general election foe Mitt Romney on Wednesday, imploring big businesses to bring home US jobs outsourced overseas.
Obama gathered consulting professionals and company chiefs at the White House hours after Romney won the New Hampshire nominating primary, despite a blizzard of attacks on the Republican frontrunner’s claims to be a job creator.
The president acknowledged business executives worried about “the bottom line” of profit and competition, but said they also had a wider moral and patriotic imperative to spur employment in the United States.
“That’s part of the responsibility that comes with being a leader in America — a responsibility not just to the shareholder or the stakeholder, but to this country that made this incredible wealth and opportunity all possible.”
“That’s a responsibility we all have to live up to — whether in the private or public sector, whether we are in Washington or on Wall Street,” Obama said.
White House officials insist that Obama has not yet started to focus on his bid for a second term in November, but is instead concentrating every day on his job, which he sees as reviving the economy and cutting unemployment.
But it was difficult not hear an echo in his words of Democratic attacks on Romney, who has been branded as a heartless business predator responsible for laying off workers to spur profits as an executive at equity firm Bain Capital.
The decision to schedule Obama’s event on the day after Romney’s triumph in the New Hampshire primary also seemed more than a coincidence.
Unemployment and the direction of the economy as it struggles back after the worst recession since the 1930s Great Depression are shaping up as the key issues of November’s election in which embattled Obama will seek a second term.
Obama says the middle class has been overtaken by an economy in which the rich and big business dominate and deprive the middle classes of what he says is the traditional “fair shake” to improve their lives.
Romney argues that Obama’s predilection for government solutions has hampered free enterprise, shackled job creating small businesses and slowed the recovery from the recession.
Aides said Obama would in coming weeks propose measures, including tax incentives, to convince US companies which have outsourced jobs offshore to maximize efficiency and profit, to bring those positions back home.
“My message to business leaders today is simple — ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to the country that made our success possible — and I am going to do everything in my power to help you do it,” Obama said.
“We are going to have to seize this moment,” Obama said, arguing that with rising labor costs overseas and a thirst for innovation in the world economy, America was positioned to reverse the flight of jobs growth overseas.
Top business figures at the event include senior executives from Ford, DuPont, Otis Elevator Company, Intel, Siemens USA and Rolls Royce North America.”
Romney easily triumphed in New Hampshire on Tuesday to tighten his grip on the Republican presidential race. But his victory may have come at a price, as his rivals savaged his claims to have created 100,000 jobs by rescuing businesses at Bain.
The attacks previewed a likely approach that Obama will take against Romney if he wins the nomination as the president styles himself as a warrior for the middle classes.
Bain Capital has also been accused of advising companies about the advantages of outsourcing jobs abroad — an approach designed to cut costs and maximize profits for investors.
Romney on Wednesday headed to the site of the next Republican nominating contest in South Carolina, vowing to defend American enterprise and repel attacks by foes like rival Rick Perry who branded him a “vulture capitalist.”
“I think the people in South Carolina want someone who knows how to work the economy for the benefit of America and could get good jobs back in this country and keep us an opportunity nation,” Romney told CNN.
“I think their argument fell flat here in New Hampshire.”
“And people in the state said, ‘Look, we want a guy who spent some time in the private sector, not someone who spent their entire life in Washington.’”