Obama, Romney push economic themes in Florida, other key states

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is launching a tough new tax-equality pitch in a TV ad asserting that Republican rival Mitt Romney's economic proposals would mean cuts for the wealthiest Americans and higher bills for everyone else. Romney hit back with a new spot timed to Obama's appearance Thursday in Florida and calling the president a "disappointment" for a statewide economic picture that has not improved under his watch.

The latest offensives come as Obama and Romney take their respective campaigns to three of the most contested states: Florida, Colorado and Virginia. It also comes as a bitterly divided Congress pushes toward summer vacation with votes that center on front-burner issues like taxes and spending, but which are mostly symbolic place-holders for November.

The Obama ad, which will air in eight states, including the two the president was visiting Thursday, cites a report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center that argues Romney has paid a lower proportion of his income in taxes than many people of lesser means. "He pays less, you pay more," the ad says.

Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser called the report "a joke" and challenged its impartiality and methodology Thursday during a conference call with reporters.

Romney's response ad shows footage of Obama giving a speech in 2008 and lamenting the state of Florida's economy. The spot notes that Florida still suffers from high unemployment, record home foreclosures and more of the state's residents living in poverty. "Barack Obama: What a disappointment," the ad says.

Besides Florida, Obama also was stopping in Virginia. Romney was headed to Colorado to appear with 10 Republican governors, including some mentioned as potential running mates, at an event near Aspen.

Aides said Romney would announce plans Thursday to achieve energy independence by 2020 by boosting domestic production of natural gas, oil and coal. He also will release a new "presidential accountability scorecard" suggesting that Obama hasn't delivered on economic promises, Fehrnstrom said. He said it was "shameful" that the president hasn't done more to outline a policy agenda for his second term.

"We hear a lot of rhetoric from this president, but rhetoric does not create jobs," Fehrnstrom said.

At the same time, Romney has been slow to release specifics about his own plans. His advisers Thursday could not outline how he Romney would achieve his goals on tax reform and energy independence.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House cast partisan votes on tax measures that also underscored Washington's political stalemate. Led by the GOP, the House approved a universal extension of Bush-era tax cuts, just a week after the Democratic-controlled Senate voted in favor of Obama's plan for continuing current tax rates only for households earning less than $250,000 or for individuals under $200,000.

With the tax issue dominating the debate, Obama was visiting two states that represent the bookends of the national economy. Florida is among states hardest hit by the housing bust and has an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, slightly above the national average of 8.2 percent, and ranks 39th among the 50 states.

Virginia, on the other hand, has the 10th lowest unemployment at 5.6 percent.

Colorado, where Romney was to give a campaign address at a fairgrounds in Golden before joining Republican governors at high school in Basalt, has been struggling with a jobless rate equal to the national average. For Romney, the trip west is his first political campaign appearance since returning from an overseas trip heavy on foreign policy.

As if to emphasize the challenge facing the presidential contenders, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday said the U.S. economy was losing strength. The Fed took no new action to boost the economy, but it appeared to signal an inclination to take steps to stimulate job creation if the economic deceleration continued.

The next major marker of economic health comes Friday, when the government announces July hiring and unemployment trends.

Economists forecast that U.S. employers added 100,000 jobs in July. That would be slightly better than the 75,000-a-month average from April through June but still below the healthy 226,000 average in the first three months of the year.

Romney's appearance with governors would not only create a show of force, but it also would underscore his own role as a former governor of Massachusetts. It also would tease speculation about his pick for a running mate, as those with him will include governors such as New Jersey's Chris Christie, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, South Carolina's Nikki Haley and Virginia's Bob McDonnnell, all of whom have been mentioned as possible Romney picks. Absent will be two of the most often mentioned possibilities, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Obama was headed to Orlando to make up for an appearance he postponed last month after the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colo. Orlando is in the middle of a Florida swath that separates the Republican-leaning north of the state and the Democratic-leaning south.

He then will take his message to Leesburg, Va., in the nation's wealthiest county, near Washington, D.C. Obama carried Loudoun County in 2008, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate won there in four decades.

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