BEXLEY, Ohio (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought again on Tuesday to paint rival Mitt Romney as out of touch with ordinary Americans, telling students in Ohio he was more committed than the Republican to making college affordable.
Students and young voters made up a critical part of the coalition that elected Obama in 2008, and the Democrat’s advisers are eager to retain that support this year despite a dip in enthusiasm that has sometimes dogged his campaign.
The Obama team has spent months trying to define Romney, a wealthy former private equity executive, as not being able to relate to middle class Americans for refusing to release several years of his tax returns and keeping cash in overseas accounts.
The president, himself a millionaire and a Harvard graduate, continued that attack line in the battleground state of Ohio, highlighting Romney’s suggestion that students borrow money from their parents to pay for school as an example of the former Massachusetts governor’s mindset.
“Not everybody has parents who have the money to lend,” Obama told a group of more than 3,000 people at Capital University outside of Columbus. “That may be news to some folks,” he said, to laughter.
Obama noted that he and his wife, Michelle, did not come from wealthy families and both graduated with a high debt load.
He criticized Romney for failing to talk about grants or community colleges but instead encouraging students to “shop around” for the best deal on their education.
“That’s it -- that’s his plan,” Obama said.
Romney’s campaign said Obama’s failure to fix the economy had made life tougher for students and young people.
“Under this president, too many young Americans are suffering from higher college costs, more debt, and a lack of good jobs when they graduate,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
“The Romney-Ryan plan will deliver 12 million new jobs to help recent graduates - and all Americans - enjoy a more prosperous future,” she said.
The partisan fight over tax policies and budget cuts has taken on greater weight in the U.S. presidential campaign with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s addition to Romney’s ticket.
The White House has emphasized its belief that the United States must invest in education to remain competitive, despite pressure to reduce spending and reduce the deficit.
As Obama headed for Nevada, his campaign office announced that Vice President Joe Biden would campaign in Florida next Monday and Tuesday, including events in Tampa on the opening day of the Republican national convention where Romney will formally become his party’s nominee later in the week.
Obama won Florida in the 2008 election but is locked in a close race to keep the key swing state in the November 6 vote.
Obama and Romney are also vying for Ohio, a state that traditionally swings between Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections and was in Obama’s column in 2008. An average of polls by RealClearPolitics shows Obama ahead there by just 1.8 percentage points.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao