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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Obama Attacks Romney\'s Proposals for College Financing


COLUMBUS, Ohio â€" President Obama, adding another verse to his litany of differences with Mitt Romney, promoted his record on education here Tuesday and assailed his Republican challenger for advising financially strapped young people who want to go to college to “shop around and borrow more money from your parents.”

Mr. Obama, who portrayed himself as the fortunate product of affordable education, said Mr. Romney's educational policies were conspicuously lacking in the student loans, grants, work-study programs and emphasis on lower tuition rates that put higher education within reach of millions of middle-class Americans.

“He said, ‘the best thing I can do for you is to tell you is to shop around,' ” the president told a crowd of 3,500 in a sun-dappled quadrangle at Capital University, in the Columbus suburb of Bexley. “That's it. That's his plan. That's his answer to young people who are trying to figure out how to go to college and make sure they don't have a mountain of debt.”

It was Mr. Obama's first rally in a two-day campaign swing to Ohio and Nevada focused on education. And it was the latest chapter in what has become a methodical drive by the president to make the election a stark choice between him and Mr. Romney: on taxes, Medicare, education â€" on anything, it seems, but the gasping economy.

The president recited what he said was his administration's unstinting record in support of education: a $10,000 tuition tax credit for families, a doubling of the Pell Grant program, incentives for colleges to keep tuition increases down and Mr. Obama's push to prevent rates on student loans from rising sharply this summer.

To underscore his support, the president stopped earlier in the day at Sloopy's, a 1950s-style diner at Ohio State University, where he acted as a one-man welcoming committee for arriving freshmen.

“The only problem with seeing you guys,” he said to three young women was that they were a reminder that his daughter, Malia, who is starting high school this fall, would be leaving home in a few years.

“Are you ready?” Samantha Williams, of Lima, Ohio, asked.

“No,” he replied. “I don't want them to leave yet.”

The Romney campaign dismissed Mr. Obama's education offensive, saying his policies had yielded a “lost generation” of people whose access to college was hindered by spiraling tuition that left them with a crushing debt burden, and whose job prospects after school were dim because of the president's inept stewardship of the economy.

The Romney campaign also derided Mr. Obama's answer to a question in an interview over the weekend with WMUR, a New Hampshire television station, about why financially burdened college graduates should support his bid for re-election.

“Well, they can look at my track record,” he said.

Surrogates for Mr. Romney also promoted his record as an educational reformer, particularly as governor of Massachusetts.

In a statement, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, a Republican, said, “Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney will provide the choices students need to enroll in good schools, the information parents need to hold districts accountable and the jobs graduates need to be successful in the global economy.”

For Mr. Obama, political analysts say, every day that the two campaigns are discussing issues other than the job market and the economy is a victory for the president. Mr. Obama did not address the furor over remarks about abortion made by Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee in Missouri. But the swirling tempest also distracted from what Mr. Romney hoped would be a focus on the economy.

In addition to the rally here, Mr. Obama was scheduled to speak at a college in Reno, Nev., later Tuesday. On Wednesday, he is to s peak at a high school in Las Vegas, before flying to New York City for fund-raisers, including a basketball skills clinic in which the president is expected to play with some N.B.A. stars.

Ohio and Nevada loom large as battleground states this election, though for somewhat different reasons. Both campaigns view Ohio as a must-win state, while Mr. Romney views Nevada, which Mr. Obama won by nearly 12 points in 2008, as a target of opportunity because of its wounded housing market and growing Mormon population.

It is Mr. Obama's eighth visit to Ohio this year. In May, he and the first lady, Michelle, unofficially began his general election campaign with a large rally at Ohio State University. The president has traveled to Nevada five times in 2012, though this is his first purely campaign swing through the state.

In Nevada, which has some of the highest foreclosures rates in the country, Mr. Obama will most likely hammer Mr. Romney again on a statement he ma de during the Republican primaries that the housing crisis should be allowed to run its course without a government bailout. But Mr. Obama's own cautious response to the housing crisis will also come under scrutiny.