WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican Mitt Romney launched fresh critiques of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy Monday in an attempt to cut the incumbent’s momentum, as the White House announced new a new trade enforcement case against China in the battle for working-class voters.
Obama was promoting a new trade enforcement action against Chinese subsidies of its auto industry during a campaign stop in Ohio, four days after Romney launched a commercial blitz accusing the president of allowing American manufacturing jobs to be lost to the rising Asian power.
With unrest in the Mideast still dominating the national news, ads the presidential rivals are running in the eight states likely to determine the election seven weeks away is exclusively on the economy, voters’ top concern.
Romney’s campaign piled on Monday with two new spots: one outlining his plan for job creation and the other assailing Obama for a growing national debt.
The ads are part of a shift in strategy for the Republican’s campaign this week, intended to stop Obama’s recent gains. Polls since the political conventions show not only that Obama is leading in the key swing states, but a recent national poll shows he has taken over Romney’s long-standing advantage on the question of who voters view as most likely to restore the economy and create jobs. Still, the race remains narrowly divided.
Campaign aides say Romney plans to re-focus his campaign appearances on his five-point economic plan and make a series of speeches aimed at offering voters a more concrete outline of his plans for the country.
A top Romney adviser also confirmed that former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie will assume an elevated role in setting the campaign message for Romney and that it will focus more on a change-versus-status quo strategy. The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity because changes had not been formally announced.
The shift comes as Republicans openly fret about the state of their nominee’s campaign and press Romney to give voters a clearer sense of how he would govern.
Over the weekend, Romney focused his advertising on one spot in the eight states likely to decide the election: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina. The ad accuses Obama of failing to crack down on China’s cheating.
Romney’s attention to China stems from a need to shore up support among the working-class voters he needs to turn out in big numbers on Nov. 6. Obama’s quick counter underscored the importance of holding onto his recent gains in manufacturing-heavy Ohio, where he planned rallies Monday at public parks in Cincinnati and Columbus highlighting his administration’s trade action.
Romney responded in a statement accusing Obama of ignoring China for too long and promising he will act from his first day in office so U.S. businesses can compete more fairly.
“Campaign-season trade cases may sound good on the stump, but it is too little, too late for American businesses and middle-class families,” Romney said. “President Obama’s credibility on this issue has long since vanished.”
Romney on Monday was targeting his economic message to Hispanics, a key voting bloc with whom Obama enjoys an advantage. The Obama campaign released an online video Monday riffing on the “Extreme Makeover” television show, mocking Romney for trying to win over Hispanics even though the Obama campaign says the Republican wants to cut education and health care programs that would help them.
“Many Hispanics have sacrificed greatly to help build our country and our economy, and to leave for their children a brighter future,” Romney said in excerpts released before his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. “Today, those sacrifices are being squandered by a president who cannot stop spending.”
Romney said his test on federal spending would be whether a program is “so critical that it is worth borrowing money from China to pay for it.”
The president has countered with claims that Romney has investments in Chinese companies and outsourced jobs to China while running the private equity firm Bain Capital. On Monday, Obama was turning to the power of incumbency to try to gain the upper hand on the debate.
The office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced it has asked the World Trade Organization to intervene with China over illegal subsidies of exports in their autos and auto parts sectors. The U.S. says the practice puts American parts manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage and encourages the outsourcing of production to China.
Jobs in the U.S. auto parts sector dropped by roughly half between 2001 and 2010, while U.S. imports of auto parts from China have increased seven-fold, according to the Obama administration.
The administration is also escalating another case it brought against China at the WTO in July that accuses China of imposing unfair duties on more than $3 billion in exports of U.S. autos. The duties cover more than 80 percent of American auto exports to China, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly details of the trade action before the president announces it.
The cases stem from the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center Obama set up earlier this year to target unfair practices around the world, particularly in China.
Obama and Romney began trading barbs on China late last week.
Romney released a television advertisement Thursday accusing Obama of “failing American workers” and ignoring unfair trade practices by China. In his weekly podcast Saturday Romney said that “in 2008, candidate Obama promised to take China ‘to the mat.’ But since then, he’s let China run all over us.”
Obama countered with a TV spot focused on its claims that Romney outsourced jobs to China while working in the private sector. His campaign also released a new Web video Saturday in which Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney holds investments in Chinese companies.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Los Angeles, Kasie Hunt in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Iowa contributed to this report.