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Romney, Obama spar as general election fight takes off

Romney gave a speech attacking the President on the economy on Wednesday, while the President accused the GOP of being unsympathetic to those hurt by the recession.

By David Espo and Nancy BenacThe Associated Press / April 18, 2012

In a matchup with Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, latest polling data point to either a close race or an Obama blowout, depending on which numbers you look at.

(L.- r.) Jae C. Hong/AP, Carolyn Kaster/AP

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 Their battle joined, challenger Mitt Romney savaged President Barack Obama's handling of the economy on Wednesday while the commander in chief commiserated up close with victims of the recession and warned that Republicans would only make matters worse.

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"Obama is over his head and swimming in the wrong direction" when it comes to the economy, Romney said in a scorching speech delivered across the street from the football stadium where the president will deliver his Democratic National Convention acceptance speech this summer.

"Even if you like Barack Obama, we can't afford Barack Obama," the former Massachusetts governor declared, an evident reference to the president's ability to transcend at least some of the public's dissatisfaction with the pace of the recovery. Romney quoted liberally — and mockingly — from Obama's 2008 campaign pledges to repair the economy.

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At the same time, Obama sketched his case for re-election in swing-state Ohio, where he met with unemployed workers who have enrolled in job training programs. Then he spoke at the Lorain County Community College.

"Right now, companies can't find enough qualified workers for the jobs they need to fill" locally, he said. "So programs like this one are training hundreds of thousands of workers with the skills that companies are looking for. And it's working." By contrast, he said, between the years 2000 and 2008, Republican policies produced "the slowest job growth in half a century ... and we've spent the last three and a half years cleaning up after that mess."

Campaign symbolism counted for much on a day that seems destined to be replicated often in the six months until Election Day.

The Republican challenger delivered his scathing denunciation of the president's policies with the Bank of America Stadium over his shoulder. Aides dubbed his remarks a pre-buttal to the president's own, and early-arriving partisans heard a recorded medley of rock music that included "It's Still the Same."

Each man taunted the other at times.

"I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth," Obama said in an evident reference to Romney, whose father was president of American Motors, an automaker.

Romney jabbed that unlike four years ago, when Obama walked through stage-set columns at his convention, things would be different this summer.

"You're not going to see President Obama standing alongside Greek columns. He's not going to want to remind anyone of Greece," Romney said, "because he's put us on a road to become more like Greece," where crushing debt has led to an austerity plan and public protests.

It was only within the past two weeks that Romney shed his competition for the Republican presidential nomination, and he is still in the process of trying to unite his party after a three-month primary struggle in which he had trouble appealing to hardcore conservatives.

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