WASHINGTON - Competing for white working-class voters, President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney squared off Saturday on China and accused each other of backing policies that would move American jobs overseas as the U.S. economy struggles to recover.
"In 2008, candidate Obama promised to take China 'to the mat.' " Romney said in his weekly podcast. "But since then, he's let China run all over us."
Obama's team, in turn, argued that Romney has profited from and outsourced jobs to China. The president also rolled out a new 60-second, $6 million ad campaign that casts Romney as risky for the nation's recovery and features former President Clinton saying: "They want to go back to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place."
Seven weeks before Election Day, both candidates took a rare break from campaigning even as they intensified their efforts on the economy, through the prism of China, with Obama sensing an opportunity to undercut his Republican rival's strength and Romney refusing to cede ground. The maneuvering came as a new poll showed Romney having lost his long-held advantage on the economy to the president even as the overall contest remains tight.
For Romney, emphasizing China was a way to refocus his campaign on voters' No. 1 issue and the central one of his campaign after a difficult week dominated by foreign policy, a weak spot for the Republican, in the wake of unrest targeting U.S. embassies in the Middle East. The shift to China also indicated Romney's need to shore up support among the working-class voters he needs to turn out come November.
Obama's campaign said it welcomed the fight on China, an issue where it argues Romney has numerous vulnerabilities. It released a new Web video Saturday in which Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney holds investments in Chinese companies and outsourced jobs to China while running the private equity firm Bain Capital.
Obama's quick counter underscored the importance of holding onto his recent gains in Ohio, a swing state with a large manufacturing base where many blame China for depressing the state's industry.
The tit-for-tat on China started percolating late last week.
Romney released a television advertisement Thursday accusing Obama of "failing American workers" and ignoring unfair trade practices by China. Obama followed up a day later with a TV spot focused on its claims that Romney outsourced jobs to China.
Those commercials are dominating the campaign conversation in key states even as the national focus was on foreign policy in the aftermath of unrest targeting U.S. embassies in the Middle East that left a U.S. ambassador and three others dead.