President Barack Obama was battling back Monday against Republican challenger Mitt Romney's charges that Obama has ignored Chinese trade violations by bringing a global case against the Asian economic giant's alleged illegal subsidies for exports of automobiles and auto parts.
Obama was expected to unveil the World Trade Organization case during campaign appearances in Ohio, perhaps the most important battleground state in the Nov. 6 election and one where the economy is heavily dependent on the auto industry.
Ohio and about six other states are likely to determine the outcome of the November election. The president is not chosen by the nationwide popular vote but by the outcome of state-by-state races. The so-called swing states do not predictably back either the Republican or Democratic parties and hold outsized power in the election. Both candidates have been visiting them repeatedly.
Polls show Obama with an edge in Ohio, based in part on his decision early in his presidency to use a massive injection of federal money to save the collapsing auto industry. China's trade policies are blamed by many for harming the industry.
Obama and Romney have both pushed China — and the economy, the top issue for voters — to the forefront as they seek to refocus their campaigns after a week dominated by foreign policy and the protests at U.S. embassies across the Arab and Islamic world.
Romney has accused Obama of being weak on China to the detriment of U.S. workers. The president has countered with claims that Romney has investments in Chinese companies and outsourced jobs to China while running the private equity firm Bain Capital.
The WTO confirmed Monday that the U.S. had filed the dispute over what the U.S. said were China's subsidies for auto and auto parts exports. The U.S. says the practice puts American parts manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage and encourages the outsourcing of production to China.
In response, China on Monday said it filed a WTO case challenging U.S. anti-dumping measures against a wide range of Chinese goods including kitchen appliances, magnets and paper.
In a statement Monday in response to the U.S.-filed case, Romney accused Obama of ignoring China for too long. "President Obama's credibility on this issue has long since vanished," he said.
Jobs in the U.S. auto parts sector dropped by roughly half between 2001 and 2010, while U.S. imports of auto parts from China have increased seven-fold, according to the Obama administration.
The administration also escalated another case it brought against China at the WTO in July that accuses Chinaof imposing unfair duties on more than $3 billion in exports of U.S. autos.
The cases stem from the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center that Obama set up earlier this year to target unfair practices around the world, particularly in China.
Obama and Romney started trading attacks on China late last week.
Romney released a television advertisement Thursday accusing Obama of "failing American workers" and ignoring unfair trade practices by China. And in his weekly podcast Saturday, Romney said, "In 2008, candidate Obama promised to take China 'to the mat.' But since then, he's let China run all over us."
Obama countered with a TV spot focused on its claims that Romney outsourced jobs to China while working in the private sector. Obama's campaign also released an online video Saturday in which deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney holds investments in Chinese companies.
The maneuvering came as a new national survey by The New York Times and CBS News found that Romney has lost his longstanding edge on the question of who voters view as most likely to restore the economy and create jobs. Despite that, the poll found the race narrowly divided.
Obama and Romney are both embarking on a week heavy with travel through battleground states while reaching out to groups that could determine the election, from working-class white voters in states like Ohio and Wisconsin to Latino voters in Florida.
After Ohio on Monday, Obama was raising campaign cash in New York on Tuesday, followed by events in Florida on Thursday, Virginia on Friday and Wisconsin on Saturday — all states he carried in the 2008 election. Obama was making his first trip to Wisconsin in months and his most pronounced pitch to voters there since Romney named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and is considered one of Romney's most enticing electoral targets.
Romney's itinerary includes fundraising stops in the Los Angeles area on Monday and outreach to key Latino voters, including an address to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and an interview with Spanish-language television network Telemundo.