CLEVELAND, Ohio — President Barack Obama and his Republican foe Mitt Romney offered sharply differing visions of how to fix the rocky US economy Thursday, in dueling speeches in swing state Ohio.
Obama hoped to create momentum behind his reelection bid, which has been complicated by a rise in the unemployment rate to 8.2 percent and undermined by his own mistaken statement last week that the private sector is doing "fine."
Romney seized a chance to share equal billing with the president, lambasting his economic policies and accusing Obama of failing to live up to election promises and indulging in "cheap" talk, not backed up by action.
Five-and-a-half months before election day, Obama and Romney are locked in a neck-and-neck tussle, as each man tries to exploit shifting economic news to position themselves for the final sprint beginning in September.
"This election will take many twists and many turns, polls will go up and polls will go down," Obama said in a 54-minute-speech in Cleveland.
"There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies that keep both campaigns busy and give the press something to write about," Obama said.
"You may have heard, I recently made my own unique contribution to that process," Obama joked, early in a professorial speech that amounted to a sweeping defense of his economic record.
Obama said he and Romney presented Americans with a clear choice -- between his program which he says favors the middle class and would invest in the future, and what he says is Romney's "top down" economics favoring the rich.
He also sought to link Romney with deeply conservative Republicans in Congress, beginning to build a case that Americans should not hand over control of their entire government to one party.
"They maintain that if we eliminate most regulations, if we cut taxes by trillions of dollars, if we strip down government to national security and a few other basic functions, then the power of businesses to create jobs and prosperity will be unleashed, and that will automatically benefit us all."
But Obama argued, such an approach was the cause of America's current economic woes.
"If you want to give the policies of the last decade a try, then you should vote for Mr Romney," Obama said.
"Mr Romney is qualified to deliver on that plan. I am giving you an honest presentation of what he is proposing," Obama said, his voice thick with sarcasm.
"I have a different vision," Obama said.
Obama argued that Romney would eliminate regulations for businesses and reward the wealthiest Americans with $5 trillion in tax cuts, all while cutting government spending on education and other priorities.
"What's holding us back is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction America should take. And this election is your chance to break that stalemate."
But Romney, giving his own speech in Ohio, in the city of Cincinnati, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the Obama event, said the president's policies over the past three-and-a-half years had hammered the economy.
"As you look at the president's record, it is long on words, and short on action that created jobs. And, again, talk is cheap," Romney said, accusing Obama of wanting to bring European-style big government policies to the US economy.
"I want more good jobs for the American people and I want to help the middle class of America and I am going to do it."
Romney, who came across as unusually passionate and animated when he was speaking before the president, said Obama would roll out "all sorts of excuses" and ideas for how he would fire up the stuttering economic recovery.
"But what he says and what he does are not always the exact same thing," he said.
"He's going to be a person of eloquence as he describes his plans for making the economy better, but don't forget, he's been president for three-and-a-half years.
"Talk is cheap, action speaks very loud. And if you want to see the results of his economic policies, look around Ohio, look around the country, and you'll see that a lot of people are hurting."