BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- President Barack Obama pressed the Democratic advantage among college students Wednesday at Bowling Green State University -- presenting himself as a champion for young graduates seeking jobs while delivering a sustained attack on the plan of challenger Mitt Romney to give tax relief to the wealthiest Americans and what the president called the Republican's hypocritical stance on Chinese trade.
In the battle for Ohio -- a contest Mr. Obama is now winning over his rival, according to recent polls -- the state's northwest quadrant became ground zero Wednesday, with both candidates stumping fewer than 25 miles from each other on the same day.
"My opponent and his running mate are big believers in top-down economics," the president told thousands inside Bowling Green's Stroh Center. "They basically just think if we spend another $5 trillion on tax cuts that favor the very wealthiest, ... prosperity and jobs will rain down on everyone else, the deficit will magically go away, and we will live happily ever after."
Mr. Obama said a decade of top-down economics under former President George W. Bush has proved that it does not work.
The president again hammered Mr. Romney for controversial remarks caught on video in which he said 47 percent of Americans believe that they are victims and expect a government handout.
"Look, I don't believe we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims who never take responsibility for their own lives," Mr. Obama said. "And I'm going to tell you, as I travel around Ohio and as I look out on this crowd, I don't see a lot of victims. I see hard-working Ohioans."
The president again called out Mr. Romney for his now-infamous "Let Detroit go bankrupt" remark before the Obama administration's automobile industry bailout and then boasted of nearly 250,000 new industry jobs created since then.
Mr. Obama's stump speech repeatedly fired up more than 5,500 mostly college students in the arena. "Today, millions of students are paying less for college because we took on a system that was wasting billions of dollars by using banks and lenders as middlemen on the student-loan process," he said. " ... My opponent, he would gut education to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy."
The crowd was not exclusively collegiate, however. "I think he is a dynamic president," said Toledo resident Joyce Turner, 66. "I think he has the concerns of not just Democrats, but all the people."
Ms. Turner said she especially supported Mr. Obama's moves to wind down fighting in Iraq and implement a health care policy that allowed children to remain on their parents' insurance until age 26, a policy that has benefited her daughter, she said.
The president started his speech with a pitch to get college students out to vote early, a theme several speakers touched on. Ohio's registration deadline is Oct. 9. In-person early voting begins Tuesday.
Mr. Obama has traveled to Ohio 29 times since the start of his presidency, and 13 of those visits have been in 2012.
Romney spokesman Chris Maloney blasted Mr. Obama, even before the speech began: "The verdict is in on President Obama's failed economic policies -- they're not working for job creators around the nation. For nearly four years, job creators have struggled in the Obama economy. Business leaders have the gloomiest outlook in three years, and the president's failed economic policies of higher taxes and more regulations will only make things worse.
"Mitt Romney understands what it takes to start and grow a business -- and, as president, will implement pro-growth policies to create 12 million new jobs and get small-business owners back on their feet," he said.
The Bowling Green campus was the first of two Obama college stops Wednesday. He later spoke at Kent State University before a crowd estimated at 6,600. There, he again took aim at Mr. Romney's proposal to reduce taxes by $5 trillion and cut the deficit without raising middle-class taxes or eliminating deductions they count on. "No matter how many times they try to reboot their campaign -- no matter how many times they try to tell you they're going to start talking specifics really soon -- they don't do it, and the reason is because the math doesn't work," he said.
The battle over Ohio will continue next week. Mr. Obama is expected in Columbus next Thursday -- two days after Ohioans begin to vote -- and in Cleveland the next day.
At both universities Wednesday, Mr. Obama sought to energize the youth vote that early polls suggest is not there for him in the same numbers he enjoyed four years ago.
"What enthusiasm gap?" said Kent State's College Democrats president Bryan Staul.
Megan Eishen, 19, a sophomore majoring in musical theater, said college Democrats have been working to register students. "Kent has a very Democratic side," she said. "It goes all the way back to the 1970s, when we were protesting the [Vietnam War]. We are very outspoken. There's a lot of Democratic support here, so for Obama to choose Kent State is a big statement."
Thousands lined up for hours waiting to hear Mr. Obama at Bowling Green State. Bowling Green student Bobby Vigars, 19, said he will likely vote for Mr. Romney in November, but he came to hear the president speak because he considered it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He will be voting for the first time.
Mr. Vigars said he will support Mr. Romney because of his views on social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. But he said he did like the president's plans to keep college affordable and tax wealthier Americans, rather than the middle class. "The people who make more money should pay more in taxes," he said.
Speaking after Mr. Obama's remarks, Bowling Green senior Seth Melchor, who introduced the president, said Mr. Romney's video-captured comments about 47 percent of Americans paying no income tax and believing that they are victims especially highlighted the contrast between the candidates.
"I don't pay income taxes, because I earn less than $20,000 a year," Mr. Melchor said, adding that he does not consider himself a victim and will pay income taxes when he earns enough money. "I consider myself hardworking."
Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Ignazio Messina and Kate Giammarise are reporters for The Blade. First Published September 27, 2012 4:00 AM