* Obama lays out contrast in economic speech
* Accuses Romney of pursuing calamitous agenda
* Democrat faces pressure to reset economic narrative
By Laura MacInnis
CLEVELAND, June 14 President Barack Obama cast
his re-election battle with Mitt Romney as a clash between
starkly contrasting philosophies and charged that his Republican
rival would hollow out the middle class in a high-stakes speech
on Thursday that could set the tone for months of intense
Standing at a podium that bore the motto "Forward," Obama
accused Romney of wanting to resurrect the Republican economic
policies that preceded the 2008 crisis that plunged the United
States into a recession from which it has not fully recovered.
"We can't afford to jeopardize the future by repeating the
mistakes of the past. Not now, not when we've got so much at
stake," Obama told a crowd of 1,500 at a community college in
the battleground state of Ohio.
On a day when both candidates for the Nov. 6 presidential
election spoke in Ohio, Romney struck first in a speech that
ended four minutes before Obama took the stage.
"He's been president for three and a half years. And talk is
cheap, actions speak very loud. If you want to see the results
of his economic policies, look around Ohio, look around the
country," Romney said at Seilkop Industries, a Cincinnati
Obama is coming off the roughest stretch of his presidency
since last summer's debt-ceiling showdown and his Democratic
allies worry that he could lose the election if it is simply a
referendum on his efforts to boost the shaky economy.
The president faces a delicate balancing act. While he must
convince voters that the economy is headed in the right
direction, he cannot minimize the struggles that many continue
to face. Too much finger-pointing could lead many to question
whether the White House incumbent is ducking responsibility.
His approval ratings have slipped to their lowest level
since January - from 50 percent a month ago to 47 percent -
because of deep economic worries, wiping out most of his lead in
the presidential race, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.
A Gallup poll released on Thursday found that two-thirds of
Americans blame Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush,
for the troubled economy; only half pointed to Obama.
That may not be enough to counter a steady drip of bad
economic news that has eroded Obama's standing.
In a sign of continued weakness in the job market, the Labor
Department said the number of Americans filing new claims for
unemployment benefits rose for the fifth time in six weeks.
Europe's economic crisis, which has eaten into U.S. economic
growth, showed signs of worsening.
Obama did not help his cause last week when he said the
private sector was "doing fine" compared with struggling local
Republicans say the remark shows he has little understanding
of Americans' economic troubles. The Romney campaign kept up the
pressure on Thursday with a television ad that repeats Obama's
remark four times.
Obama acknowledged on Thursday that the comment was a