Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday.
Updated 3:02 p.m. ET: COLUMBUS, Ohio — President Obama dropped the gloves against Mitt Romney on Saturday, leveling his most direct criticism to date of the presumptive GOP nominee while making the case for a second term.
On a two-stop trip that took him to two swing states — Ohio and Virginia — intended to launch his campaign, Obama assailed Romney and sought to link him to unpopular Republicans in Congress.
"Governor Romney is a patriotic American who has a wonderful family, who has much to be proud of. Ran a financial firm and a state. But I think he has drawn the wrong lessons from his experiences,” Obama said to a crowd of 14,000 at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center.
“He sincerely believes that if CEOs and wealthy investors like him make money, the rest of us will automatically make money as well,” he continued, reading off the same script at Virginia Commonwealth University in the early evening, as the crowd of 8,000 cheered.
The president started to draw contrasts against Romney heading into the general election by dredging up some of the former Massachusetts governor's most cringe-worthy moments in the primary.
"Corporations aren’t people. People are people!" Obama exclaimed, making reference to an early quip by Romney in Iowa that, "Corporations are people, my friend!"
Prosecuting the case for his own re-election, the president emphasized the gains his administration has made so far on a host of policy ares, including the revival of the auto industry, repealing "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell," ending the war in Iraq and killing Osama bin Laden.
In this week's address, President Obama speaks about his recent trip to Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. troops and signed an agreement that will help put an end to the war.
Obama nodded to the challenges facing him in his battle for a second term; an anemic jobs report released Friday underscored some of Obama's challenges.
But the president defied a traditional metric for an incumbent — "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" — and turned the question on its head.
"It’s not just about how we’re doing today, but how we’ll be doing tomorrow," Obama said.
The Romney campaign was quick to remind voters of the struggles in the economy.
"No matter how many lofty campaign speeches President Obama gives, the fact remains that American families are struggling on his watch: to pay their bills, find a job and keep their homes," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "While President Obama all but ignored his record over three and a half years in office, the American people won’t. This November, they will hold him accountable for his broken promises and ineffective leadership.”
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Both the Romney and Obama campaigns are treating Ohio and Virginia as swing states that could tip in their favor.
Some polls indicate Romney is catching up to Obama in the Buckeye State; a Quinnipiac poll released May 3 show Obama leading Romney by two points, 44 to 42 percent, whereas he had a six-point margin at the end of March.
Obama’s trip to Ohio State came just a day after Romney penned an open letter to the president in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer Friday, accusing him of being “out of your depth” on the economy and telling him, “what you are offering Ohio now is too little, too late.”
Romney also appeared in Ohio last week, appearing with Gov. John Kasich at an event at Otterbein University in Columbus, just 20 minutes from where Obama spoke today.
Romney also bracketed the president’s trip to Virginia, where Obama has a 51-44 percent lead according to a new Washington Post poll. Romney campaigned earlier in the week with Virginia’s Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, thought to be on the short list of Romney’s vice presidential options.
The chairman of the state Republican Party’s “Victory 2012” campaign also delivered a response to the president’s VCU speech directly after Obama spoke.
It’s not just coincidence that Obama kicked off his campaign in Columbus and Richmond; according to the media trackers at SMG Delta, the cities are just two of 17 swing media markets that George W. Bush won in 2004 and Obama won in 2008.