By STEVE PEOPLES and NEDRA PICKLER
DEFIANCE, Ohio — Mitt Romney is trying to close the deal with voters by promising to revitalize the economy, an area where polling shows the Republican presidential nominee has an edge heading into the final days of the campaign.
As President Barack Obama takes a break from the campaign trail, Romney was promoting an economic address in swing state Iowa to help win the dwindling number of voters yet to make up their minds. While the speech was not expected to break new ground, Romney’s campaign said he would use it to help crystalize the differences between his and Obama’s economic approaches.
“If Paul Ryan and I are elected as your president and vice president, we will endeavor with all our hearts and energy to restore America,” Romney said in prepared excerpts his campaign released hours before he was scheduled to deliver the speech. “Instead of more spending, more borrowing from China and higher taxes from Washington, we’ll renew our faith in the power of free people pursuing their dreams.”
Romney argues in the speech that Obama has no proposals that can meet “the challenges of the times.” He dismisses the president’s signature legislative achievement as “his vaunted Obamacare” and says he would instead focus on saving Medicare and Social Security. He repeats many of his standard campaign themes: that Obama is focusing on small issues like “characters on Sesame Street and silly word games” and that Romney will improve kitchen-table concerns like health care, job creation and school choice. His signature refrain is that America can’t afford another four years like the last four years.
The speech comes the same day the government reported a slight pickup in economic growth in the final such report before the Nov. 6 election.
The pickup to 2 percent from July to September from the 1.3 percent in the second quarter may help Obama’s message that the economy is improving. Still, growth remains too weak to rapidly boost hiring. And the 1.74 percent rate for 2012 trails last year’s 1.8 percent growth. Romney called the news “discouraging.”
“Slow economic growth means slow job growth and declining take-home pay,” Romney said in a statement. “This is what four years of President Obama’s policies have produced.”
The White House had a more positive take on the news in a blog post by Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. “While we have more work to do, together with other economic indicators, this report provides further evidence that the economy is moving in the right direction,” he wrote.
An Associated Press-GfK poll out this week shows Romney overtaking Obama as the candidate that likely voters trust more to handle the economy. The poll found 51 percent of those voters surveyed Oct. 19-23 picking Romney, compared to 44 percent for Obama. The two candidates were tied among likely voters on that issue in the previous poll in mid-September.
Still, the two are locked in a dead heat in the nationwide poll. Other surveys show a tight race in the swing states that will decide the election, with the winning candidate needing 270 Electoral College votes.
Obama was pushing back on Romney’s criticism on another front — relations with Israel, which could have an impact particularly with Jewish voters in swing state Florida. The Republican has repeatedly criticized Obama for not traveling to Israel as president. Obama visited as a candidate in 2008.
A new ad shows images of Obama’s trip and video of his pledge during his final debate with Romney that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon while he’s president and that “our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”
Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg responded that Obama’s Middle East policy “has been a failure.”
“As president, Mitt Romney’s first overseas trip will be to Jerusalem, and under a Romney Administration, the world will never question America’s solidarity with Israel,” she said in a statement.
The AP-GfK poll shows Romney has made particular gains among women after making the case that he’s more qualified to make sure their families and the country are on a solid financial footing. A month ago, women favored Obama over Romney on the economy 56 percent to 40 percent. Now, the split has shifted to 49 percent for Romney and 45 percent for Obama.
Obama has tried this week to win over women on a social concern, abortion. On Thursday, the president made repeated, though indirect, references to Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock’s comment that any pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended.”
“We’ve seen again this week, I don’t think any male politicians should be making health care decisions for women,” Obama told a crowd in Richmond, Va. The president’s aides pressed further, using a Web video to highlight Romney’s endorsement of Mourdock and to accuse the GOP nominee of kowtowing to his party’s extreme elements.
Romney, who appears in a television advertisement declaring his support for Mourdock, has ignored repeated questions on the matter.
Romney also has ignored the criticism and is instead accusing Obama of playing partisan politics in an “incredibly shrinking campaign.”
“This campaign is growing. The momentum is building. We’re taking back America,” Romney told 12,000 supporters in Ohio late Thursday, the same night that media trackers confirmed his campaign was expanding its TV advertising into Minnesota.
The investment is described as a small buy that Democrats suggest is simply intended to generate media coverage and force Obama’s campaign to invest there as well. President Richard Nixon was the last Republican to carry the state, in 1972.
Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan also was spending time in states not expected to affect the race’s outcome, with fundraisers in South Carolina and Alabama. Ryan was scheduled to join Romney for a rally Friday evening in North Canton, Ohio, before the vice presidential candidate embarks on a two-day, 400-mile bus tour of the state.
Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning Friday in Wisconsin, said Romney “meant what he said” when he was caught on tape saying that 47 percent of the nation considers themselves victims.
“Romney talks about victims. I don’t know where the hell he lives,” Biden told about 1,000 people at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. “I don’t recognize the country he’s talking about.” The Obama campaign has a radio ad playing heavily in Wisconsin keying off of Romney’s 47 percent line and using it to question the Republican’s priorities.
Obama arrived back in Washington late Thursday following a 40-hour battleground state blitz of eight states. He was taking a brief break from the campaign trail Friday and spending much of the day at the White House, with a trip to Democratic Party headquarters to film a live appearance on MTV. Turning out young voters who tend to vote Democratic is a key strategy for the Obama campaign.
The president also planned Oval Office interviews Friday with American Urban Radio Networks, which has a largely black audience, and Michael Smerconish, the conservative-leaning radio host who backed him in the 2008 election.
Obama also planned to talk to local television stations in swing states. And the campaign announced Friday that the president will travel next week to Colorado, Wisconsin and Ohio for a series of campaign rallies and events.
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Julie Pace in Washington and Philip Elliott in Greenville, S.C., contributed to this report.