Obama and Romney lock horns in key state before TV debate

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President Barack Obama cast Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch challenger for the White House, while the Republican countered that the US economy “is bumping along the bottom” under the current administration.

The two men criss-crossed hotly contested Florida, their travel plans nearly overlapping in Miami.

Florida is one of a handful of battleground states with large Hispanic populations that are expected to decide the close race for the White House.

The president is not chosen by a nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests, making these states especially important.

Mr Romney worked to move past the furore over a video showing him telling donors last May that nearly half of Americans see themselves as victims entitled to government handouts, and that as a candidate, his job was not to worry about them. But Mr Obama made his most extensive comments to date on the subject, seizing the chance to make the most of a controversy that has knocked his rival off stride.

“When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is maybe you haven’t gotten around a lot,” the president said at a town hall-style forum aired by the Spanish-language TV network Univision.

Seeking to change the subject, Mr Romney disclosed plans for a three-day bus tour early next week through Ohio – another important battleground – with running mate Paul Ryan and sought to return the campaign focus to the economic issues that have dominated the race all year.

Less than seven weeks before Election Day, polls make the race a close one, likely to be settled in eight or so swing states where neither man has a solid edge.

Mr Obama has gained ground in polls in some of those states since the completion of the Democratic National Convention two weeks ago, while Mr Romney has struggled with controversies of his
own making that have left Republicans frustrated at his performance as a candidate.

At a fundraiser in Sarasota, Mr Romney looked ahead to his televised debates with Mr Obama.

“He’s a very eloquent speaker, and so I’m sure in the debates, as last time ... he’ll be very eloquent in describing his vision,” the Republican said. But he can’t win by his words, because his record speaks so loudly in our ears.

“What he has done in the last four years is establish an economy that’s bumping along the bottom.”

Mr Romney’s attempt to steer the debate back to the sluggish economy came amid fresh signs of weakness in the nation’s job market.