From opposing ends of battleground Ohio, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Thursday offered vastly different visions of how to speed up America's economic recovery. They accused each other of pursuing failed ideas, yet on a day of high expectation both offered familiar platforms and lines.
In Cincinnati, Romney said, "Don't forget, he's been president for three and a half years. And talk is cheap. Actions speak very loud."
Speaking just ahead of Obama's economic address, Romney said, "If you want to see the results of his economic policy, look around Ohio, look around the country."
Obama, trying in Cleveland to define the choice for voters, presented the election as a time when the country could break a stalemate of ideas. Giving a recession-drained nation his version of the recent past, Obama said: "If you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for Mr. Romney."
The backdrop was vital Ohio, one of the deeply contested states that could swing the election. With the two men locked in a tight campaign, it appeared they might actually talk over each other from 250 miles apart, until Romney ran ahead of schedule and Obama started a little behind.
What unfolded was a back-to-back duel on television.
The Republican spoke for under 20 minutes, with coat off and sleeves rolled up, to about 100 supporters at a manufacturing plant. In a more expansive, situation-setting address, the president went more than twice that long, over 50 minutes, to an eager crowd of 1,500 people at a community college.
The former Massachusetts governor offered no new proposals in what was his standard speech, castigating the president for stimulus spending, the health care law and failure to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. He also criticized the president's policies toward China, saying he would label the Asian nation as a currency manipulator on his first day in office if elected president.
Obama tried to use his speech to take the campaign where he wants it — a deep, long look at how his economic vision differs from Romney's. He spoke in budgetary detail about his ideas for spurring job growth and trimming the national debt, warning people not to fall for the Romney line that Obama is in over his head.
"Your vote will finally determine the path that we take as a nation. Not just tomorrow but for years to come," the president said. "When you strip everything else away, that's really what this election is about. That's what is at stake right now. Everything else is just noise."
Given the fragile economy, Thursday's face-off offered anticipation of a bigger moment in a campaign that has been defined mainly by ads and fundraisers. Yet for all the hype, both offered themes familiar to those following the campaign.
Yet their speeches were not for typical campaign followers. They were for undecided voters, and those just starting to pay attention to the choice — especially in Ohio.
No matter what path either candidate follows to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, Ohio and its 18 votes figure in every scenario. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. Obama carried the state 52 percent to 47 percent in 2008 over John McCain; George W. Bush carried it 51 percent to 49 percent in 2004 over Democrat John Kerry.
Obama pounded on the second-term economic vision he began laying out months ago. He spoke of spending tax money on education, energy, science, innovation and transportation, and of cutting the debt by reducing spending elsewhere and raising taxes on the wealthy.
Romney talked of cutting regulation, spending and what he calls government intrusion.
The speeches come in a month marked by bad economic news.
May employment numbers showed the jobless rate edging up to 8.2 percent. This week, the Federal Reserve released data showing that the median family net worth had shrunk between 2007 and 2010, to levels not seen since 1992.