The U.S. economy is headed toward a “Greece-like setting” with limited job opportunities for young people, presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told college students in Ohio as he and President Barack Obama compete for support from young voters.
Instead of focusing entirely on improving the economy when he inherited a recession in 2009, Obama pursued “his own agenda to transform America” that led to an anemic recovery and didn’t set a course for future growth, Romney said Saturday at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.
“At some point we have ceased being the kind of free-enterprise nation the founders envisioned,” Romney said. “That’s what’s at risk, that’s what’s at stake in this election.”
Romney’s visit to the private school followed Obama’s trips this week to college campuses in three other swing states — North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado — and an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” all efforts to appeal to young voters.
Obama is preferred over Romney, by 43 percent to 26 percent, among Americans ages 18 to 29, a group often referred to as millennials because they came of age in this millennium, according to a nationwide survey by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics released this week. Almost a third of those polled were undecided.
The efforts by Romney and the president to woo a youth vote that could prove crucial in a close election comes as Obama and Republican congressional leaders argue over how to keep interest rates for government student loans from doubling on July 1, as graduates face a weak job market.
The Republican-led House passed Friday a measure to extend the current 3.4 percent interest rate on Stafford higher-education loans and to pay for the $5.9 billion cost by abolishing a public-health fund.
Obama opposes that method of covering the bill’s cost, and the administration says he would veto it. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has proposed financing the bill by raising taxes for some high-earners.
Romney didn’t mention the interest rate issue in his speech or during a round-table meeting with seven Otterbein students beforehand. In comments earlier this week, he said he agreed with Obama on stopping the rise in student-loan rates while blaming the administration for an economy in which he says too many recent college graduates can’t find jobs that match their skills and education.
Romney told his Otterbein audience that Obama’s concentration on passing the overhaul of the healthcare system when he first took office and the escalation of U.S. deficits have put the country “on track to becoming Greece,” with its debt crisis.
“There’s no question in my mind that if this president were to be re-elected, we will ultimately face a Greece-like setting where people will wonder whether they want to loan money to America, and loan money to America at low interest rates,” Romney said.
The former Massachusetts governor drew sustained applause when he criticized Obama’s tax policy and said, “If your priority is to punish people, President Obama’s the right guy to vote for. If your priority is to get more good jobs, I’m the right guy to vote for.”
Obama plans a May 5 rally at Ohio State University in Columbus and another event later in the day at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to formally kick off his re-election campaign.
Ohio has been a bellwether in modern presidential politics, voting for the winner in every election since 1964. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio, and the last Democrat to win without Ohio was John Kennedy in 1960.
Obama carried Ohio with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2008, after former President George W. Bush won the state in 2000 and 2004. The state was hit hard during the economic downturns of the past decade, losing 556,700 jobs, or 10 percent, from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only Michigan lost a higher percentage of jobs during that period, federal data show.
The state’s economy has improved since then and had an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent in March, lower than the 8.2 percent national rate. The state ranked seventh in its economic recovery in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared with the previous year, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who endorsed Romney April 19 after remaining neutral in the race, appeared with him Saturday and said the former private-equity executive has a record of knowing how to create jobs.
“While we’re doing much better in Ohio now, the problem is, we still have obstacles in our way,” Kasich said at the round-table discussion Romney held to ask graduating seniors about their career plans.
As the students and Romney munched on hamburgers, Romney asked them how they financed their education, whether they thought they had an education to match available jobs and how their job search was going.
Angela Robley, a business-marketing major from Indiana, said she found a part-time job with a small company that does search-engine optimization.
“Not easy to do these days,” Romney said.
Romney’s round-table “made a compelling case for President Obama’s re-election,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in an e-mail.
“As Ohio Gov. John Kasich touted the economic recovery underway in Ohio, Otterbein students said that we need a president who will make investments in key, job-creating sectors like education and research,” Smith said. “That’s exactly what President Obama is pursuing.”
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