By Kasie Hunt and Jim Kuhnhenn
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. —
Heading into the campaign’s final weeks, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is upping his criticism of President Barack Obama’s plans for a second term, accusing the Democrat of failing to tell Americans what he would do with four more years. The Obama campaign is aggressively disputing the notion, claiming it’s Romney who hasn’t provided specific details to voters.
At campaign events and in a new ad out Saturday, Romney is setting up the closing weeks as a choice between what he says is a “small” campaign that’s offering little new policy and his own ambitious plan to fundamentally change America’s tax code and entitlement programs.
The new Romney ad criticizes the president’s policies on debt, health care, taxes, energy and Medicare, arguing that Obama is simply offering more of the same. The campaign did not say where the spot would air.
“Have you been listening to the Obama camp lately? They have no agenda for the future, no agenda for America, no agenda for the second term,” Romney told a crowd of thousands who gathered in a band shell just off Daytona Beach. “They’ve been reduced to petty attacks and silly word games. Just watch it — the Obama campaign has become the incredible shrinking campaign.”
Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, continued the line of criticism Saturday at campaign stops near Pittsburgh and in Belmont, Ohio, saying Obama has not laid out a policy agenda for the country.
“He’s not even telling you what he plans on doing,” Ryan told a rain-soaked crowd of about 1,100 people at a campground in coal-rich eastern Ohio.
Ryan urged people to vote early, saying, “The one thing you can do is elect a man named Mitt Romney who will end this war on coal and allow us to keep these good paying jobs.”
Obama’s campaign disputes the notion that the president hasn’t outlined a detailed second-term agenda, pointing to his calls for immigration reform, ending tax breaks for upper income earners, fully implementing his health care overhaul and ending the war in Afghanistan.
In a statement sent after Romney’s Friday night event, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner ticked through a series of policy items, calling them “just part of President Obama’s agenda for a second term.”
Obama, at the Democratic National Convention, called for creating 1 million manufacturing jobs over the next four years with a mix of corporate tax rate cuts and innovation and training programs. He has set a goal of cutting the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years. He also has called for Congress to pass proposals he made last year that include includes tax credits for companies that hire new workers and funding for local municipalities to hire more teachers, police officers and firefighters.
As for why Republicans would back the same proposals they have already voted against, Obama has told supporters he expects his re-election would “break the fever” on Capitol Hill that led to gridlock during his first term.
The president’s aides are particularly irked by the questions about Obama’s second-term agenda, because they say it’s Romney who has failed to provide voters with details. They point to his refusal to provide specifics about his tax plan or outline what he would replace the president’s health care overhaul with if he makes good on his promise to repeal the federal law.
An independent group backing Obama, though, is trying to renew attention on Romney’s tenure at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital. The group, Priorities USA Action, is redoubling its efforts against Romney, re-airing an ad about an AMPAD plant in Marion, Ind. That spot features former employee Mike Earnest recalling being told to build a stage from which officials of the office supply company later announced mass layoffs.
He says, “It was like building my own coffin.” That ad first aired in battleground states in the summer.
Romney aides have said AMPAD was a struggling business to begin with, and Bain overall created many more jobs than were lost.
That ad will air in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin. The new campaign will be in addition to a $30 million effort against Romney policy proposals, the group said.
Both Obama and Romney retreated from the campaign trail Saturday to bone up on foreign policy, leaving the work of courting voters to their running mates.
Monday’s debate in Boca Raton, Fla., with its focus on international affairs, is the third and final between the two rivals and comes just 15 days before the election.
Obama left Friday for Camp David, the presidential hideaway in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, where he is huddled with advisers preparing for the debate. Among those with him are White House senior adviser David Plouffe and senior campaign strategist David Axelrod. Aides say Obama was also being assisted by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Obama aide Karen Dunn.
Romney was to spend the weekend in Florida with aides preparing for the debate.
Romney running mate Paul Ryan planned campaign stops in Pennsylvania and Ohio on Saturday. Vice President Joe Biden was headed for St. Augustine, Fla.
Monday’s 90-minute debate will be moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News. It will be similar to the first debate, with both men standing at lecterns on a stage. Schieffer has listed five subject areas, with more time devoted to the Middle East and terrorism than any other topic.
While the economy has been the dominant theme of the election, foreign policy has attracted renewed media attention in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Obama had ranked well with the public on his handling of international issues and in fighting terrorism, especially following the death of Osama bin Laden. But the administration’s response to the Libya attack and questions over levels of security at the consulate have given Romney and his Republican allies an issue with which to raise doubts about Obama’s foreign policy leadership.
Ryan accused Obama of stonewalling, telling Milwaukee radio station WTMJ on Friday that the president was refusing to answer even basic questions. “His response has been inconsistent, it’s been misleading,” Ryan said.
Obama stuck with domestic policy themes Friday, accusing Romney of moderating his stands and conveniently forgetting his past positions on economic and women’s issues and coining a new campaign term for what he described as his opponent’s condition: “Romnesia.”
Romney has spent large amounts of time off the campaign trail to prepare for the upcoming foreign policy debate. Aides say the additional time preparing is well-spent even if it comes at the expense of public events.
The president planned an extensive tour of battleground states following the debate, with events in Florida and Ohio on Tuesday, including a joint event with Vice President Joe Biden in Dayton, Ohio, before returning to the White House.
On Wednesday, Obama was packing his schedule with around-the-clock campaigning in Davenport, Iowa; Denver; Los Angeles and Las Vegas, followed by events in Tampa, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; Chicago and Cleveland on Thursday. The campaign dubbed it the “America Forward!” tour.
Aides said the president planned to sleep aboard Air Force One from Las Vegas to Tampa on Wednesday night and would call undecided voters from the airplane between stops. In a nod to the campaign’s push for early and absentee voting, Obama was voting early in person in his hometown of Chicago on Thursday.