President Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney’s campaign of planning to slash education funding in order to pay for tax breaks for millionaires, as he shifted his attacks against Republican cost-cutting plans onto education.In a speech designed to put maximum ideological distance between his campaign and Mr Romney, the President openly mocked his multi-millionaire opponent as a rich man who had little concept of ordinary families struggling to put their children through university.
Contrasting his own personal story with that of the former boss of Bain Capital private equity, who has a personal fortune of $250 million (£160 million), Mr Obama said he and his wife Michelle had not paid off their own student debts until eight years ago.
Addressing a crowd of university students in Ohio, Mr Obama recalled a recent event where Mr Romney had advised an audience member to “borrow money from your parents” if he wanted to start a business or go to college.
As students booed Mr Romney in absentia, Mr Obama added: “And when a high school student in Youngstown [Ohio] asked what he was going to do to make college more affordable for families like his, Governor Romney didn’t say anything about grants, or loan programmes, he said, ‘the best thing you can do is shop around’.
“That’s his answer. ‘Shop around and borrow more money from your parents’. I just want everybody to understand that not everybody has parents with the money to lend. That may be news to some folks, but it’s the truth.”
Mr Obama said his record of “investing in education” contrasted with what he his campaign says are Republican plans to cut education budgets by up to 20 per cent, causing a million students to lose scholarships and 10 million more to see cuts in their financial aid.
Ohio is a key battleground state that Mr Obama will almost certainly need to carry if he is to win November’s election. He currently holds a wafer-thin 1.8 per cent lead in an aggregate of recent polls in the state.
With less than a week until the Republican Convention opens in Tampa, Florida, the President said he offered a “fundamentally different vision” of how to rescue America’s hard-pressed middle classes who are facing high unemployment and systemically low wages.
Students and young people formed a key part of the coalition that propelled Mr Obama to victory in 2008 and the President worked hard to whip up the crowd of 3,300 students at the privately-run Capital University in the central Ohio city of Columbus.
Mr Obama urged his student audience members to ‘find 10 friends’ and help them register to vote.
“I’m an Obama supporter, and without grants and a scholarship I wouldn’t be at this university,” said 18-year-old Kenisha Cummings, a first-year student who said she had ‘no father’ and a mother who was disabled. “Obama believes everyone like me should have a chance.”
Ohio, once a manufacturing powerhouse of the US, was hit hard by the 2008 credit crunch but has been struggling for years in the face of competition from Asia which has driven down wages, hollowing out local economies across the state.
With figures out this week showing unemployment rising in 44 US states – although Ohio remained flat – the Obama campaign was also keen to remind voters that more than 180,000 jobs have been created in Ohio since March 2010, including more than 50,000 in manufacturing.
However while unemployment may have fallen in recent months, many of today’s new manufacturing jobs offer only a fraction of the living, in real terms, that they did 20 years ago, paying as little as $10-12 ( £6.30-£7.60 ) an hour, with scant health insurance and pension benefits.
The Romney camp said Mr Obama’s failure to revive the US economy offered “dismal” employment prospects to graduates now emerging from university into a sluggish “Obama economy” saddled with record debts.
“Under President Obama, the costs of college have skyrocketed – making it more difficult for students to attend college – and his economic policies have made it harder for graduates to get jobs,” said Amanda Henneberg, a campaign spokesman said.
*Additional reporting: Charles Whitfield*
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