Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
FREMONT, Calif. — Stunts, stagecraft, scripts — and a touch of the surreal — shaped the presidential campaign Thursday as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama sought an edge on voters' No. 1 issue, the economy.
On one coast, Romney made a surprise trip to the former California headquarters of solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra to accuse Obama of currying favor with campaign supporters by giving a federal loan to the green energy company that later went bankrupt.
"This half-a-billion-dollar taxpayer investment represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team," the Republican presidential candidate said as he stood outside the shuttered company and held it up as Exhibit A of presidential missteps on the economy.
He offered no proof of his claim during a visit that was shrouded in a highly unusual amount of secrecy because, aides said, the campaign feared Obama would interfere with his Republican rival's plans to appear there.
At roughly the same time across the country in Boston, Obama's campaign staged its own event outside Massachusetts' Statehouse to argue that Romney's record as governor from 2003 to 2007 proves he is ill-prepared to manage the nation's economy.
"Romney economics didn't work then and it won't work now," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said at a news conference, pointing to a poor record of job creation, increased fees and the addition of $2.6 billion to the state's debt on Romney's watch.
Axelrod's appearance attracted several dozen Romney supporters, including many who protested loudly by chanting "Where are the jobs?" and holding signs that said "Obama isn't working."
The competing events, complete with rival Web videos and frenzied backers, made for an oddball day on the campaign trail and showed the degree to which Obama and Romney's teams are trying to undercut each other's economic credentials during the nation's slow-moving recovery, easily the top issue for voters.
The jockeying also came one day before Friday's May employment report, which will offer the latest window into the nation's economy.
Economists were expecting the report to say that employers added 158,000 jobs, which would be better than the past two months but well below the winter's pace of 252,000 jobs per month. They also expect no change in the unemployment rate, which was 8.1 percent in April.
Obama, himself, stayed above the fray of the day, embracing an opportunity to appear presidential as his Republican rival struggled to draw attention to his campaign.
The Democratic incumbent was at the White House on Thursday. He appeared with former President George W. Bush, the man he repeatedly blames for the nation's economic turmoil, for the unveiling of Bush's official portrait during a rare, nonpolitical event in an election year.
But on this day, Obama had little to say about the campaign and kept a bipartisan tone during the unveiling.
"We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences. We all love this country," Obama said as the last two Republican presidents, George W. Bush, and his father, George H.W. Bush, looked on.
Romney was far more direct.
He staged what amounted to almost a taunt to the president by traveling to the shuttered Solyndra plant here. His campaign didn't announce the event location or subject in advance and barred reporters from disclosing the venue until arrival. A senior Romney aide said the campaign was concerned the Obama administration would work with local officials to prevent Romney from holding an event there.
Yet, for all the preparation, and underscoring the challenge of being the challenger, Romney's event was pre-empted by live cable TV coverage of the Bush portrait unveiling.
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