LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Republican Mitt Romney, seeking to refocus his presidential campaign on the economy after days of distraction, is promoting energy proposals aimed at creating more than 3 million new jobs and opening up more areas for drilling off the coast of two politically critical states, Virginia and North Carolina.
Romney's pivot to energy, a key component of his jobs agenda, comes as the national debate has turned away from the GOP candidate's jobs message and toward issues like rape, abortion, welfare and Medicare 2½ months before Election Day.
President Barack Obama's campaign also began a new push on the economy Thursday with a television advertisement featuring former President Bill Clinton. In the ad, Clinton speaks directly to the camera and says voters face a "clear choice" over which candidate will return the nation to full employment.
"We need to keep going with his plan," Clinton says of Obama in the ad, which will run in eight battleground states.
The former president also draws a connection between Obama's policies for strengthening the middle class and the nation's economic prosperity during his time in office, when the U.S. economy was thriving. Obama's campaign has been seeking to use Clinton as a reminder to voters that the economy was strong the last time a Democrat held the White House.
Romney is traveling from Arkansas to New Mexico on Thursday to discuss what aides cast as a comprehensive energy plan that would result in more than $1 trillion in revenue for federal, state and local governments, plus millions of jobs.
The most significant aspects of Romney's plans hinge on opening up more areas for offshore oil drilling, including in the mid-Atlantic, where it is currently banned. Romney also wants to give states the power to establish all forms of energy production on federal lands, a significant shift in current policy that could face strong opposition in Congress.
In a supporting document, Romney says it now takes up to 307 days to receive permits to drill a well on federal land. By contrast, states such as North Dakota issue permits within 10 days and Colorado within 27 days, Romney said.
"States are far better able to develop, adopt and enforce regulations based on their unique resources, geology and local concerns," the statement said.
In an effort to appease environmentalists, Romney says he would prevent energy production on federal lands designated as off-limits.
Romney's plan focuses heavily on boosting domestic oil production, including approving the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to U.S. refineries in Texas.
The proposal would establish a new five-year leasing plan for offshore oil production that "aggressively opens" new areas for drilling, starting with the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has pushed to expand offshore drilling as a boost to Virginia's economy.
The Obama administration has proposed a plan that would allow energy companies to begin seismic testing to find oil and natural reserves in the Atlantic Ocean. Companies would use the information to determine where to apply for energy leases, although no leases would be available until at least 2017.
The Romney plan makes little mention of wind energy, which Obama has pushed heavily in states such as Iowa and Colorado. Obama has pushed Congress to extend a tax credit for producers of wind energy, an approach that Romney opposes.
The presumptive GOP nominee has significant ties to big oil and raised at least $7 million from industry executives this week during fundraisers in Texas.
Romney's campaign says his strategy would achieve energy independence by 2020.
Obama told donors in New York Wednesday night that under his administration, dependence on foreign oil has gone below 50 percent for the first time in 13 years.
"Oil production is up. Natural gas is up. But we're also doubling the energy that we get from wind and solar. That is clean, it's renewable, it's homegrown, it's creating jobs all across America," Obama said.
Romney is seeking to regain his economic focus after a week dominated by comments made by Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin, a Senate candidate who said a woman's body is able to avoid pregnancy during what he called a "legitimate rape."
Romney called for Akin to drop out of the Senate race, but the congressman so far has refused.
Obama, seeking to boost his support among women, told donors Wednesday that Akin "somehow missed science class" and was representative of Republicans who want to "go backwards instead of forwards and fight fights that we thought were settled 20 or 30 years ago."
Campaigning Wednesday in Iowa and Arkansas, Romney previewed his energy speech, promising donors at a fundraiser in Arkansas that "North America will be energy-independent by the last year of my second term."
Romney's energy pledges revived a long-elusive goal of reducing America's dependence on foreign supplies.
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Nearly every U.S. president, including Obama, has made similar vows. Richard Nixon made the case for energy independence in 1973 after Arab oil producers cut off supplies in response to U.S. support of Israel in the Mideast war.
Obama has called for a one-third reduction in U.S. oil imports by 2025. The president's proposal for boosting domestic oil production relies in part on offering incentives to companies that hold leases for offshore and onshore drilling to speed up recovery; increasing the use of biofuels and natural gas; and making vehicles more energy-efficient.
Daly reported from Washington. Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC. Follow Matthew Daly at http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC