Romney shadows Obama in US campaign
Washington - Buoyed by polls showing him clawing back ground against Barack Obama, Republican foe Mitt Romney went on the offensive on Wednesday, hammering the president's "failed economic policies" and shadowing him on the campaign trail.
"It's the economy, stupid," Romney told conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, invoking the effective and now-infamous tagline used 20 years ago by Democrats.
"The number one issue people are concerned about is jobs, rising incomes, the overall economy," Romney said. "And we're going to keep bringing people back to the fact that [Obama] has failed the American people."
In a move that announced a cat-and-mouse strategy in the race to the November election, Romney staged a Wednesday campaign event in Charlotte, in the battleground state of North Carolina, across the street from where Obama will give his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in September.
"For three-and-a-half years, we've had unemployment above 8%," Romney told supporters.
Obama "set the measure; he has failed by the measurements he set. You won't hear that at this convention, but you're going to hear it at ours, I'll tell you that", he said.
Romney's campaign said the all-but-certain Republican nominee would head next to Ohio, addressing supporters in the must-win state on Thursday, the day after Obama campaigned there.
The candidate will appear at a factory that closed down after Obama campaigned there in 2008, and will argue that the president's policies have choked economic and job growth since he took office in 2009.
"It's time to get someone that will get this economy going and put the American people back to work with good jobs and rising incomes," Romney said in Charlotte.
Obama flew on Wednesday to the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to lambast Republican economic policies, which he said had whipped up "rampant, phony profits" and triggered the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
"Our entire financial system almost collapsed and we have spent the last three-and-a-half years cleaning up after that mess," Obama said, criticising Republican support for tax cuts for the rich and less regulation.
No Republican has ever lost Ohio and won the White House, and the state is shaping up as a crucial test again in the 2012 election.
Romney, an aide said, dispatched his campaign bus full of state surrogates to circle the Elyria community college where Obama spoke.
With the two candidates sparring, a new CBS/New York Times poll showed Romney and Obama in a dead heat.
The pair each drew 46% support among registered voters surveyed in the days after Romney's main rival Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican race.
Last month a poll by the same media outlets showed Obama with a 47-44 advantage, while a RealClearPolitics average of polls on Wednesday has Obama ahead by 1.7 percentage points, far tighter than the 5.3-point advantage Obama enjoyed one week earlier.
Romney could gain further, with a new scandal roiling the Obama administration.
Three Secret Service employees will leave the agency over a sex scandal in which 11 agents - and at least 10 military personnel - stand accused of consorting with prostitutes at a hotel in the Colombian resort of Cartagena where Obama attended a recent summit.
Dead or in jail
Romney weighed in, saying he would "clean house" if it was found that employees at the Secret Service "put their playtime and their personal interests ahead of" protecting the president.
But Romney could suffer from a different simmering row, over a hate-laced, anti-Obama rant by aging shock rocker and Romney supporter Ted Nugent.
Stumping for Romney last weekend at the National Rifle Association, the gun-slinging guitarist warned he would end up "dead or in jail" if Obama is re-elected.
"We are patriots, we are brave hearts. We need to ride into that battlefield, and chop their heads off in November," he said.
While Nugent later insisted he never threatened Obama's life, the comments drew the attention of the Secret Service, and Nugent said they were due to question him on Thursday.