ELYRIA, Ohio/CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - President Barack Obama launched a new effort to woo Hispanics and took a swipe at Republican Mitt Romney’s “silver spoon” background on Wednesday as the two presidential rivals laid out sharply different economic visions to win over U.S. voters.
Obama, a Democrat, and Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, outlined the weaknesses they saw in each other’s economic plans in dueling speeches in Ohio and North Carolina.
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” Obama said at a community college outside Cleveland, in a not-so-subtle dig at Romney’s fortune, which is estimated at up to $250 million.
Obama did not mention Romney by name, and his comment came in the context of promoting government support for education and social programs.
“In this country, prosperity does not trickle down, prosperity grows from the bottom up. And it grows from a strong middle class,” he said.
Obama has painted himself as the champion of the middle class in the campaign for the November 6 election - contrasting himself with Romney and Republicans for opposing tax hikes for the rich and favoring budget cuts that would hurt the elderly and the poor.
Romney hammered Obama for presiding over an economy with high unemployment.
With the Charlotte, North Carolina, football stadium as a backdrop, Romney read lines from Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which he listed grievances against then-President George W. Bush, a Republican.
More Americans are out of work, working harder for less, losing homes and owning cars they can no longer afford to drive, a result of “broken policies in Washington” and failed policies at the White House, Romney said, quoting Obama’s 2008 speech.
“Those things he said about the prior administration are absolutely accurate about his administration,” Romney said. “And that’s why, even if you like Barack Obama, we can’t afford Barack Obama.”
Obama will deliver his nomination acceptance speech in Charlotte in four months, near where Romney spoke on Wednesday.
Romney reminded his audience of Republican supporters that Obama gave his Denver address on a stage with Greek columns.
“One thing I‘m convinced you’re not going to see - you’re not going to see President Obama standing alongside Greek columns,” said Romney. “He’s doesn’t want to remind anyone of Greece because he’s put us on a road to become more like Greece.”
Greece is in the middle of a debt crisis that has shaken the eurozone and threatened the world economy.
Obama described the economic theories of Romney’s party as a failure.
He painted the Bush-era reliance on trickle-down economics - in which reducing taxes on the wealthy is supposed to lead to more hiring, which ultimately benefits middle- and lower-income people - as a formula that led to the near collapse of the U.S. financial system.
“We spent the last 3 1/2 years cleaning up after that mess. So their theory did not work out so well,” he said.
“Instead of moderating their views even slightly, you now have Republicans in Washington and the ones running for president proposing budgets that shower the wealthiest Americans with even more tax cuts.”
Aside from exploiting their economic differences, Obama is hoping to capitalize on polls showing strong support from women and Hispanics, two constituency groups that could decide the election.
His campaign launched a program on Wednesday called “Latinos for Obama” to boost voter registration among Hispanics and recruit volunteers for Obama’s cause.
It also launched a series of Spanish-language radio and television ads in Colorado, Nevada, and Florida, all of which are important battleground states with sizable Latino populations.
Obama said last week he would pursue changes in immigration policy early in his second term if he wins re-election. Among other things, he is proposing to make it easier for illegal immigrants who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to apply for permanent residency.
He has blamed Republicans in Congress for his inability to get such plans approved during his term.
Republicans argue that Obama’s economic policies have hurt the Hispanic community and say the president’s record in office is filled with empty promises.
Romney predicted that Obama, in his North Carolina speech, would say he was ready to lead the United States to the future after navigating the economic storms of the past few years.
“Now, we’re a trusting people, we’re a hopeful people, but we’re not dumb,” Romney said. “And we’re not going to fall for the same lines and the same person just because it’s in a different place.”
Rain forced Romney’s team from holding his event outdoors with the Bank of America Stadium in the backdrop of TV footage. The event was held in a building nearby.
North Carolina has typically voted Republican in recent presidential elections, but went narrowly in 2008 for Obama, 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent over Republican Senator John McCain.
The state’s unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent for the first time in three years in February, to 9.9 percent.
“The president is going to do everything he can to get North Carolina in his column,” Romney said, “but that is not going to be enough because we’re going to win North Carolina.”
Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by David Lindsey and Peter Cooney