President Barack Obama said Wednesday that his Republican rivals are sincere, patriotic and absolutely wrong about how to reinvigorate the economy. He said they "don't seem to remember how America was built."
Obama spoke in politically pivotal Ohio before rolling into neighboring Michigan for an evening of fundraising. Pounding home the theme of his re-election run, Obama said the rich should pay higher taxes to support priorities, such as education, that help the entire nation.
"In this country, prosperity doesn't trickle down," Obama told an audience of roughly 400 people at Lorain County Community College. "Prosperity grows from the bottom up and it grows from a strong middle class out."
"That's why I'm always confused when we keep having the same argument with folks who don't seem to remember how America was built," Obama said.
The president built his day around two Midwest states in the epicenter of the economic debate, hard-hit Ohio and Michigan, to highlight his policies and contrast them to the proposals of House Republicans _ and by extension, Republican Mitt Romney, his likely opponent in November. Obama did not call out Romney by name.
"We have two competing visions of our future," Obama said. "The choice could not be clearer. Those folks running on the other side, I'm sure they are patriots, I'm sure they are sincere in terms of what they say, but their theory, I believe, is wrong."
He began his visit by sitting down in shirt sleeves with unemployed workers-turned-students to hear their stories, empathize with their troubles and cheer their determination to bounce back. Then, in remarks to the crowd, the president retold the students' words, spoke of their past struggles and their hopes for the future.
Romney, for his part, never misses an opportunity to blame Obama for what he labels as failed economic policies and bloated government, and to argue that the president had his chance.
On Wednesday, the likely GOP nominee was delivering a "prebuttal" in Charlotte, N.C., to the president's speech to the Democratic National Convention in that town come September.
Obama said the public doesn't like to see tax dollars wasted, but does want to see money spent in areas that help the country thrive. In Ohio, Obama visited a successful job-training program of the type the White House says would face steep cutbacks in federal financing under the House-passed budget, which Romney supports. And in Michigan, the president will scoop up more campaign cash to help him combat Romney's efforts to frame his presidency as an economic failure.
Beyond job training, the president is making the broader case that while more remains to be done to boost the economy, he's successfully brought the country back from the brink of financial collapse and done what he should to help Americans weather the storm. For Obama, there's no more critical place to make that argument than Ohio, always an electoral battleground, and a general election bellwether since 1980.
Each candidate has material to work with in making his economic case: Nationally, the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.1 percent last August to 8.2 percent in March, the lowest since about the time Obama took office. But job growth has been weak, millions of people remain unemployed and improvements in hiring haven't translated into higher salaries for those who are working.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and David Espo contributed to this report.
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