Sixty days to the election, President Barack Obama is charging onto the campaign trail pleading for patience from hard-pressed Americans toying with the notion of change, and portraying Republican rival Mitt Romney as unproven.
Obama and Romney were shadowing each other Friday in New Hampshire and Iowa, improbable battleground states in the too-close-to-call race. The campaigning was sure to be dominated by a new report from the Labor Department on the nation's jobless.
Romney and the Republicans argue that three years of unemployment above 8 percent and minimal economic growth are valid reasons to fire Obama after one term. The incumbent contends that, having inherited one of the worst economic crises in history, he needs more time to turn the nation around.
"I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy. I never have," Obama told Democrats at their convention Thursday night. "You didn't elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades."
Obama's concession that his work is incomplete runs smack into a harsh reality: No president since the Great Depression has been re-elected with such grim economic numbers.
For the candidates, the two-month sprint to Nov. 6 promises a high-stakes mix of debates, multiple appearances in a dozen battleground states and hours of campaign speeches. Both will be scrapping for the precious commodity of electoral votes to reach the winning number of 270, leaving no competitive state quiet this fall. The airwaves will be inundated with ads from the campaigns and outside groups, with Romney likely to have more money to spend.
His campaign has purchased about $4.5 million in television advertising for the next several days, according to officials who track such spending.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with their wives, campaign Friday in New Hampshire — it offers four electoral votes — and Iowa — six votes — before ending the day in Florida, the highest-count swing state with 29.
While Romney hits Iowa and New Hampshire, too, his wife, Ann, presses for votes in Virginia — 13 electoral votes — and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, focuses on Nevada — six votes. The battleground list includes Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
In his prime-time speech Thursday night, Obama cast the election as a stark choice of competing visions about the country and the role of government. He described a nation where the government bailed out desperate automakers, a move Romney opposed, and saved thousands of jobs. Obama contrasted that with a Republican approach that he argued sees tax cuts as a solution to all problems and focuses on the individual.
"Have a surplus? Try a tax cut. Deficit too high? Try another. Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call us in the morning," Obama said in a mocking tone.
Patience was the watchword at the three-day Democratic convention in Charlotte as delegates roared through Obama's speech and frequently chanted "Four more years." Romney also talked about patience at the Republican gathering in Florida last week, but he said America had run out of it.
"Americans have supported this president in good faith. ... The time has come to turn the page," the GOP nominee said in his convention speech.
As the Democrats wrapped up their three-day gathering, the Romney campaign made clear the election would be a referendum on the president's tenure.
"Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record — they know they're not better off and that it's time to change direction," Matt Rhoades, the challenger's campaign manager, said in a statement.
Obama mentioned his rival by name just once, but his target was clear. The president highlighted the national security successes — the death of Osama bin Laden, the fight against al-Qaida — that have earned him high marks in opinion polls, a contrast to the low grades he receives on the economy. Romney, he pointed out, stumbled during his overseas trip, angering Britain when he suggested its Olympics preparation had fallen short.
"My opponent and his running mate are new to foreign policy, but from all that we've seen and heard, they want to take us back to an era of blustering and blundering that cost America so dearly," Obama said. "After all, you don't call Russia our No. 1 enemy — and not al-Qaida — unless you're still stuck in a Cold War time warp. You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally."
In opinion polls, Americans insist that the economy will be the overriding issue this election.
Romney wants to extend all tax cuts that are due to expire on Dec. 31 with an additional 20 percent reduction in rates across the board, arguing that it will spur job growth. He has embraced the main tenets of running mate Ryan's far-reaching budget — deep cuts in domestic programs such as education, repeal of Obama's health care law and a remaking of the Medicare program for seniors into a voucher-system for those now under 55.
Obama wants to renew the tax cuts except on incomes higher than $250,000, saying that millionaires should contribute to an overall effort to cut federal deficits. He also criticizes the spending cuts Romney advocates, saying they would fall unfairly on the poor, lower-income college students and others. He argues that Republicans would "end Medicare as we know it" and saddle seniors with ever-rising costs.
"When Governor Romney and his allies in Congress tell us we can somehow lower our deficit by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy — well, you do the math. I refuse to go along with that. And as long as I'm president, I never will," Obama said.
Obama, the onetime community organizer, also talked of citizens having a greater sense of shared responsibility
"We understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard but necessary work of self-government," Obama said.
As he ended his speech, Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own" filled the arena.
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