Charles Dharapak, AP
AMES, Iowa — Seizing on fresh evidence of economic sluggishness, Republican challenger Mitt Romney said Friday that President Barack Obama inherited a bad situation when he took office and then "made the problem worse." Obama looked ahead to the second term he's hoping to win.
Referring to the two top Republicans in Congress, the president said he was prepared to "wash John Boehner's car" or "walk Mitch McConnell's dog" if it would help complete an elusive deal to cut future deficits by trillions of dollars.
The two campaign rivals faced a common danger as the end of their race came into view: a large and dangerous storm threatening to barrel up the East Coast. Romney and Vice President Joe Biden each canceled planned weekend appearances in Virginia Beach, Va.
Romney was unsparing in his criticism of the man he hopes to unseat. "Despite all that he inherited, President Obama did not repair our economy, he did not save Medicare and Social Security, he did not tame the spending and borrowing, he did not reach across the aisle to bring us together," the former Massachusetts governor said.
"Four years ago, America voted for a post-partisan president, but they have seen the most political of presidents, and a Washington in gridlock because of it," he added.
The Republican challenger borrowed a theme from Obama's successful 2008 campaign, saying he and running mate Paul Ryan "can bring real change to this country." And he tweaked a line that former President Bill Clinton unveiled at this summer's Democratic National Convention, saying, "This is not the time to double-down on trickle-down government policies that have failed us."
Democrats delighted in pointing out that Romney spoke outside Kinzler Construction Services, which benefitted from more than $650,000 in stimulus funding from the 2009 package Obama that signed into law — and the Republican nominee often criticizes.
Romney campaigned in Iowa and Ohio as national polls showed a tight race. Though his aides claimed momentum, citing recent polls, Obama's team said the president led or was tied in each of the nine battleground states where the two sides have concentrated hundreds of millions of dollars in television commercials over the past five months.
Back in the White House after his long day and night and day of campaigning, Obama said he looked forward to trying to reach a deal with congressional Republicans on a sweeping budget deal if he wins re-election. Asked by radio show host Michael Smerconish if he would make the first move, the president replied, "I've said I'll do whatever's required to get this done.
"And I think the key that the American people want right now is for us to tackle some big challenges that we face in a commonsense, balanced, sensible way." That was a reference to one of his biggest differences with Romney — his insistence that tax cuts be allowed to expire at upper incomes on Dec. 31, as opposed to Romney's insistence that they be extended.
Obama has been under pressure from Romney in recent days to be more specific about a second-term agenda, and he released a 20-page pamphlet earlier this week. He also had interviews with MTV and several battleground-state television stations on his schedule for the day.
Later, in a live interview with MTV, he urged younger voters to cast their ballots, saying, "there's no excuse" not to.
"In 2000, Gore versus Bush, 537 votes changed the direction of history in a profound way and the same thing could happen," he said. That was Bush's contested margin of victory in Florida, the state that decided the election in a race that went to the Supreme Court.
The two sides disagreed — of course — on whether the political battlefield was expanding.
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