CINCINNATI President Barack Obama lodged an unfair-trade complaint against China on Monday and immediately used it as a wedge against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Obama told voters in Ohio, where the auto industry is important, of his administrations new push for the World Trade Organization to sanction China for subsidizing exports of vehicles and auto parts and costing American jobs.
Romney responded quickly and dismissively. Obama may think that announcing new trade cases less than two months from Election Day will distract from his record, but the American businesses and workers struggling on an uneven playing field know better, the Republican said.
Referring to his own criticism of Obama, he said, If Id known all it took to get him to take action was to run an ad citing his inaction on Chinas cheating, I would have run one long ago.
Romney addressed another sensitive area Monday, immigration, in his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. He pledged to work with both parties to permanently fix our immigration system. He said a fair and efficient system would never be achieved if we do not first get control of our borders.
The careful language underscored the fine line Romney must walk between appealing to Latino voters and angering conservatives who oppose proposals for pathways to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
Republican activists have watched with concern as opinion polls suggest Obama has opened a small lead over Romney since the parties late-summer conventions. Some conservative writers have complained for months that Romney needs to put more details behind his pledges to tame the deficit while also preserving all tax cuts and expanding military spending.
Others say Romney mishandled a chance to criticize Obamas foreign policy last week when the Republican nominee issued sharp remarks in the opening hours of fast-changing and complicated episodes of violence aimed at American facilities in the Middle East.
On Sunday, Politico reported significant tension and disarray in the Romney campaign. Particularly chaotic, according to the account, were efforts to draft Romneys acceptance speech at the Tampa, Fla., convention. The speech drew lackluster reviews in general, and rebukes from some for making no mention of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Romney played down the reports in an interview with Telemundo. Ive got a terrific campaign, he said. My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them.
With 50 days until the election, Romneys camp unveiled new TV ads and planned a renewed focus on policy in campaign appearances by the nominee, his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, and top surrogates.
Obama, speaking in Cincinnati soon after Gillespies conference call, seemed eager to challenge the notion that Romney will detail potentially painful changes Americans will have to accept to slow the fast rise in the federal debt.
Obama own spending plans would not balance the budget. But he has offered more detailed tax-and-spending proposals, in part because he must present budget proposals to Congress. In Ohio on Monday, Obama noted that he, unlike Romney, would raise taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year. Romneys platform, the president said, doesnt add up.
They say the most important thing we have to do is reduce the deficit, Obama said. Then the first thing they do is to spend trillions of dollars more on tax breaks for the wealthy.
And whenever you ask them to explain the plan, they wont, he said. They wont say how they pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts.
In his Los Angeles speech, Romney added no new significant details to his deficit-cutting claims. He said he would put the nation on track to a balanced budget, in part by eliminating non-essential programs or subsidies. The only subsidies he specified go to Amtrak, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the arts and humanities, and the Legal Services Corporation.
These programs, which Romney has targeted since 2011, receive a tiny portion of federal spending.
Several balanced-budget advocates want both Romney and Obama to confront tougher decisions about spending and taxes. Former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, who co-chaired a deficit-reduction commission, told NBC Sunday that the presidential campaigns contain not nearly enough substance on this topic.
Theres no easy way out, Bowles said, and I think the candidates are afraid to stand up and say, Look, we need to make some tough choices. We need to have some shared sacrifice.
In Cincinnati, Obama reiterated his claims that Bain Capital -- the private equity firm Romney headed for years helped companies shift U.S. jobs to China.
He made money investing in companies that uprooted from here and went to China, the president said. When other countries dont play by the rules, weve done something about it. Weve brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two.
Romneys campaign recently began airing TV ads accusing Obama of allowing American manufacturing jobs to be lost to China. The campaign says Bain was not involved in moving jobs to China while Romney headed the firm.
Separately, China filed its own World Trade Organization case Monday challenging U.S. anti-dumping measures on billions of dollars of kitchen appliances, paper and other goods, adding to worsening trade strains between the two economic giants.
Babington reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Los Angeles contributed to this report.