Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Plunging into his campaign for a new term, President Barack Obama tore into Mitt Romney on Saturday as eager to "rubber stamp" a conservative Republican congressional agenda to cut taxes for the rich, reduce spending on education and Medicare and enhance power that big banks and insurers hold over consumers.
Romney and his "friends in Congress think the same bad ideas will lead to a different result, or they're just hoping you won't remember what happened the last time you tried it their way," the president told thousands of cheering partisans at what aides insisted was his first full-fledged political rally of the election year.
Six months before Election Day, the polls point to a close race between Obama and Romney, with the economy the overriding issue as the nation struggles to recover from the worst recession since the 1930s. Unemployment remains stubbornly high at 8.1 percent nationally, although it has receded slowly and unevenly since peaking several months into the president's term. The most recent dip was due to discouraged jobless giving up their search for work.
Romney has staked his candidacy on his ability to create jobs, but Obama said his rival was merely doing the bidding of the conservative powerbrokers in Congress and has little understanding of the struggles of average Americans.
"Why else would he want to cut his own taxes while raising them for 18 million Americans," Obama said of his multimillionaire opponent.
While Romney has yet to flesh out a detailed economic program, he and Republicans in Congress want to extend all the tax cuts that are due to expire at year's end. Obama and most Democrats want to let taxes rise for upper-income earners.
The president's campaign chose Ohio State University, the biggest college campus in a perennial swing state, and Virginia Commonwealth University for the back-to-back rallies. In 2008, Obama won Ohio while reversing decades of Republican dominance in Virginia. Since then, Virginia has swung back toward the GOP in statewide elections.
Obama has attended numerous fundraisers this election year, but over the escalating protests of Republicans, the White House has categorized all of his other appearances so far as part of his official duties.
He was introduced in Columbus by first lady Michelle Obama, and walked in to the cheers of thousands. While the president is notably grayer than he was four years ago, he and his campaign worked to rekindle the energy and excitement among students and other voters who propelled him to the presidency in 2008.
"When people ask you what this election is about, you tell them it is still about hope. You tell them it is still about change," he said. It was a rebuttal to Romney's campaign, which has lately taken to mocking Obama's 2008 campaign mantra as "hype and blame."
If the economy is a potential ally for Romney, Obama holds other assets six months before the vote.
Unlike Romney, who struggled through a highly competitive primary season before recently wrapping up the nomination, Obama was unchallenged within his own party. As a result, his campaign's most recent filing showed cash on hand of $104 million, compared with a little over $10 million for Romney, and has worked to build organizations in several states for months.
But in the aftermath of recent Supreme Court rulings, modern presidential campaigns are more than ever waged on several fronts, and the effect of super political action committees and other outside groups able to raise donations in unlimited amounts is yet to be felt.
Already, while Romney pauses to refill his coffers, the super PAC Restore Our Future has spent more than $4 million on television advertising to introduce the Republican to the voters.
Romney had no public events Saturday after spending much of the week campaigning in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
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