Quote of the Day
“You can be working and still be dirt poor.”
- President Obama
November 6 - General Election
CHICAGO -- Watch the video player above as President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters after defeating GOP challenger Mitt Romney to secure four more years in the White House.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
BOSTON -- Watch the video player above as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney delivers his concession speech after falling short in his bid to win the White House.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
Sherrod Brown (D) has retained his seat in the US Senate and declares victory.
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Campaign 2012 packed frantic suspense to the finish Tuesday, with Vice President Joe Biden flying unannounced up next to Republican Mitt Romney in battleground Ohio even as voters across the country were deciding who would win the White House.
President Barack Obama stayed in hometown Chicago, reaching out to swing-state voters on the phones and via satellite while the other three men on the rival tickets had a high noon show-down along the shore of Lake Erie.
Romney and running mate Paul Ryan had scheduled the stop together just Monday, and Biden flew in to play defense as Romney waited on his plane for Ryan's arrival. The vice president rolled off the tarmac without comment to the surprised media traveling with him, just as Ryan's charter pulled in for a landing.
The rush for Ohio and its 18 electoral votes highlighted the importance of the state to both campaigns' victory plans. Polls going into Election Day showed Obama with a narrow lead there, and Romney said the eleventh-hour campaigning was meant to leave him with no regrets.
"I can't imagine an election being won or lost by, let's say, a few hundred votes and you spent your day sitting around," Romney told Richmond radio station WRVA earlier in the day. "I mean, you'd say to yourself, `Holy cow, why didn't I keep working?' And so I'm going to make sure I never have to look back with anything other than the greatest degree of satisfaction on this whole campaign."
Meanwhile, Americans headed into polling places in sleepy hollows, bustling cities and superstorm-ravaged beach towns deeply divided. All sides are awaiting, in particular, a verdict from the nine battleground states whose votes will determine which man can piece together the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Obama has more options for getting there. So Romney decided to make the late dash to Cleveland and Pittsburgh on Tuesday while running mate Ryan planned another stop in Richmond, Va.
Obama visited a campaign office close to his home in Chicago and was met by applause and tears from volunteers before he picked up a phone to call voters in neighboring Wisconsin. He told reporters that the election comes down to which side can get the most supporters to turn out.
"I also want to say to Gov. Romney, `Congratulations on a spirited campaign.' I know his supporters are just as engaged, just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today," the president said.
Romney was asked on WTAM radio in Cleveland whether he agreed that voters always get it right in the end. "I won't guarantee that they'll get it right, but I think they will," Romney replied.
It wasn't just the presidency at stake Tuesday: Every House seat, a third of the Senate and 11 governorships were on the line, along with state ballot proposals on topics ranging from gay marriage and casino gambling to repealing the death penalty and legalizing marijuana. Democrats were defending their majority in the Senate, and Republicans doing likewise in the House, raising the prospect of continued partisan wrangling in the years ahead no matter who might be president.
The forecast for Election Day promised dry weather for much of the country, with rain expected in two battlegrounds, Florida and Wisconsin. But the closing days of the campaign played out against ongoing recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy. Election officials in New York and New Jersey scrambled to marshal generators, move voting locations, shuttle storm victims to polling places and take other steps to ensure everyone who wanted to vote could do so.
In New York City, authorities planned to run shuttle buses every 15 minutes Tuesday in storm-slammed areas to bring voters to the polls. In Ocean County along the New Jersey coast, officials hired a converted camper to bring mail-in ballots to shelters in Toms River, Pemberton and Burlington Township.
"This is the happiest vote I ever cast in my life," said Annette DeBona as she voted for Romney in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. The 73-year-old restaurant worker was so worried about not being able to vote that she called the police department several days in advance, as well as her church, to make absolutely sure she knew where to go and when.
Renee Kearney, of Point Pleasant Beach, said she felt additional responsibility to vote this Election Day. The 41-year-old project manager for an information technology company planned all along to vote for Obama, but said her resolve was strengthened by his response to Sandy.
"It feels extra important today because you have the opportunity to influence the state of things right now, which is a disaster," Kearney said.
Election Day came early for more than a third of Americans, who cast ballots days or even weeks in advance. An estimated 46 million ballots, or 35 percent of the 133 million expected to be cast, were projected to be early ballots, according to Michael McDonald, an early voting expert at George Mason University who tallies voting statistics for the United States Elections Project. None of those ballots were being counted until Tuesday.
Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, were among the first voters Tuesday in at a polling place in Greenville, Del., Biden's home state. Smiling broadly, Biden waited in line with other voters and greeted them with a handshake. Outside he sent a message to people across the country who may encounter crowded polling places. "I encourage you to stand in line as long as you have to," he told television cameras.
The Obamas voted last month in an effort to encourage supporters to vote early. The men on the GOP ticket each voted with their wives at their side Tuesday morning in their hometowns - Romney in Belmont, Mass., and Ryan in Janesville, Wis. - then headed to meet in Cleveland for some retail politicking at restaurants and other unannounced stops. The last-minute nature of the swing made it too difficult to arrange a big public event, but their hope was their joint visit would get local news coverage that might translate to more support.
Romney and Ryan visited a campaign office in in Richmond Heights, Ohio, to thank volunteers. "This is a big day for big change," Romney said." The pair then stopped at a nearby Wendy's for quarter-pound hamburgers.
Ten miles to the west, Biden stopped at the Landmark Restaurant lunch counter and apologized for the commotion caused by his entourage. He told diners in one booth he understands they just came to get some spaghetti "and Joe Biden shows up."
Both sides cast the Election Day choice as one with far-reaching repercussions for a nation still recovering from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression and at odds over how big a role government should play in solving the country's problems.
"We can make sure that we make even greater progress going forward in putting folks back to work and making sure that they've got decent take-home pay, making sure that they have the health insurance that they need, making sure we're protecting Medicare and Social Security," Obama said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on "The Steve Harvey Morning Show." "All those issues are on the ballot, and so I'm hoping that everybody takes this seriously."
Romney argued that Obama had his chance to help Americans financially and blew it. "If it comes down to economics and jobs, this is an election I should win," Romney told Cleveland station WTAM.
With both sides keeping up the onslaught of political ads in battleground states right into Election Day, on one thing, at least, there was broad agreement: "I am ready for it to be over," said nurse Jennifer Walker in Columbus, Ohio.
The election played out with intensity in the small subset of battleground states: Colorado, Iowa, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Romney's late move to add Pennsylvania to the mix was an effort to expand his options, and Republicans poured millions into previously empty airwaves there.
In the campaign's final hours, voters around the country echoed the closing arguments of the two presidential candidates.
Jim Clark, a 42-year-old computer administrator from Topeka, Kan., is a registered Republican who voted for Obama in 2008, seeking change. But he voted Tuesday for Romney after losing a full-time job two years ago and working temporary assignments since then.
"I'm just ready for a change," Clark said. "It's tougher for me, personally. The economy has not improved."
Lauren Clay, 28, a doctoral student in disaster science and management, voted for Obama.
"He has a done a really good job given what he was handed four years ago," she said.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
Watch the video player above as President Obama makes his final push for central Ohio votes the day before the election.
COLUMBUS -- Ohio is shaping up to be the big prize in this year's
presidential election... but how is the state handling all the
ABC 6/FOX 28's Mike Kallmeyer's with Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to answer that question.
Reporter: Mike Kallmeyer
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Five days before the election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama vied forcefully for the mantle of change Thursday in a country thirsting for it after a painful recession and uneven recovery, pressing intense closing arguments in their unpredictably close race for the White House. Early voting topped 22 million ballots.
Republicans launched a late push in Pennsylvania, long viewed as safe for Obama. The party announced a $3 million advertising campaign that told voters who backed the president four years ago, "it's OK to make a change." Romney and running mate Paul Ryan both announced weekend visits to the state.
A three-day lull that followed Superstorm Sandy ended abruptly, the president campaigning briskly across three battleground states and Romney piling up three stops in a fourth. The Republican also attacked with a tough new Spanish-language television ad in Florida showing Venezuela's leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, and Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, saying they would vote for Obama.
The storm intruded once again into the race, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the president in a statement that said Sandy, which devastated his city, could be evidence of climate change.
Of the two White House rivals, Bloomberg wrote, "One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics."
The ever-present polls charted a close race for the popular vote, and a series of tight battleground surveys suggested neither man could be confident of success in the competition for the 270 electoral votes that will decide the winner.
The presidential race aside, the two parties battled for control of the Senate in a series of 10 or more competitive campaigns. The possibility of a 50-50 tie loomed, or even a more unsettled outcome if former Gov. Angus King of Maine, an independent, wins a three-way race and becomes majority-maker.
Obama's aides left North Carolina off the president's itinerary in the campaign's final days, a decision that Republicans trumpeted as a virtual concession of the state.
Yet Romney's team omitted Ohio and Wisconsin from a list of battlegrounds where they claimed narrow advantage.
The Republican National Committee ad in Pennsylvania aired earlier in other areas of the country. Far less aggressive than many of the GOP attacks on the president, it said Obama took office promising economic improvement but had failed to deliver. "He tried. You tried. It's OK to make a change," says the announcer.
Republicans said the decision for Romney and Ryan to campaign in the state reflected late momentum, while Democrats said it was mere desperation.
Romney and his allies also made late investments in Minnesota and Michigan, states that went comfortably for Obama in 2008 but poll much closer four years later.
In a possible boost for Obama, government and private sources churned out a spate of encouraging snapshots on the economy, long the dominant issue in the race. Reports on home prices, worker productivity, auto sales, construction spending, manufacturing and retail sales suggested the recovery was picking up its pace, and a measurement of consumer confidence rose to its highest level since February of 2008, nearly five years ago.
Still, none of the day's measurements packed the political significance of the campaign's final report on unemployment, due out Friday. Joblessness was measured at 7.8 percent in September, falling below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office.
Unemployment alone explained the competition to be the candidate of change, the slogan Obama memorably made his own in 2008 and struggles to hold now.
"Real Change On Day One," read a huge banner at Romney's first appearance of the day, in Roanoke, Va., and the same on a sign on the podium where he spoke in Doswell.
"This is a time for greatness. This is a time for big change, for real change," said the former Massachusetts governor, a successful businessman who says his background gives him the know-how to enact policies that will help create jobs. "I'm going to make real changes. I'm going to get this economy going, from day one we're making changes."
He and his running mate also poked at Obama's proposal to create a Department of Business by merging several existing agencies, including the Commerce Department, and the Republican campaign released a television ad on the subject.
"I don't think adding a new chair in his Cabinet will help add millions of jobs on Main Street," jabbed Romney.
To dramatize his economy-based appeal, the Republican challenger also stopped by Bill's Barbecue, a decades-old restaurant in Richmond that closed its doors during the long recession. Walking inside past the "Do Not Enter" signs, he asked owner Rhoda Elliott what had happened.
"Usually when we have a small hiccup in the economy, they go from the white cloth, which is Morton's and those, and then they - we're the next step, and so we usually fare pretty good. But this one lasted so long they went down the next step, and that's where it is right now," said Elliott.
"Yeah. Yeah. Taco Bell," Romney interjected, offering an example of a more down-market option.
Obama seemed intent on making up for lost campaign time after a three-day turn as hands-on commander of the federal response to Sandy, although aides stressed he remained in touch with the administration's point man, FEMA Director Craig Fugate, and local officials.
One day after touring storm-battered New Jersey with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, he walked off Air Force One in Green Bay, Wis., wearing a leather bomber jacket bearing the presidential seal and promptly lit into Romney.
In the campaign's final weeks, his rival "has been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up" policies that led to the nation's economic woes. "And he is offering them up as change," Obama said.
"What the governor is offering sure ain't change. Giving more power back to the biggest banks isn't change. Leaving millions without health insurance isn't change. Another $5 trillion tax cut that favors the wealthy isn't change. Turning Medicare into a voucher is change, but we don't want that change," he said.
The president's campaign went up with a new ad featuring Collin Powell endorsing the president. "I think we ought to keep on the track we're on," says the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
Officials said the ad would run in 10 states, including Minnesota, one of the states where Romney and his GOP allies launched late advertising.
A separate Obama commercial had a more limited exposure - and a harsher message. Aimed at voters in Michigan and Ohio, it cites independent fact-checkers and top executives from Chrysler and General Motors to rebut Romney's recent ads that suggest auto jobs are moving to China from the United States.
Both campaigns invested heavily in early voting, and more than 3.1 million had already been cast in Florida alone. None will be counted until Election Day.
Reporter: Adam Aaro
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON, DC -- President Romney and Vice President Biden? It may happen if the upcoming presidential vote ends in a 269-269 Electoral College tie.
Watch the video player above as ABC 6/FOX 28's Mike Kallmeyer shows us how the unlikely scenario might play out.
Reporter: Mike Kallmeyer
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- Vice President Joe Biden heaped praise on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and leaders in East Coast states damaged by superstorm Sandy as he left central Ohio Tuesday afternoon.
âThis is the way itâs supposed to work,â Biden said on the tarmac at Port Columbus Airport.
He also praised the âfocusedâ leadership of President Barack Obama, on whose behalf Biden was supposed to campaign in two Ohio towns Tuesday.
Instead, Biden spent the morning communicating with Washington from Columbus.
âI wish you guys could have been on the phone with all the governors,â Biden told reporters who gathered on the tarmac.
âUniformly they were incredibly grateful to [Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig] Fugate and the president,â Biden said as he sidestepped a question about Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romneyâs position on FEMA.
Hurricane Sandy returned Romneyâs primary-debate response to a question about funding the agency to the news cycle.
At the time, the former Massachusetts governor indicated he would consider cutting back funding for FEMA and rely on state and local governments or private companies in the disaster situations.
Spokesman Chris Maloney said late Tuesday, Romney believes help from the federal government and FEMA are important but, âAs the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities.â
Biden told reporters heâd return to the campaign trail in Florida Wednesday, but he doesnât believe anybody has thought about how the storm will affect the outcome of the election.
Obama spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C. and is expected to tour storm-ravaged New Jersey Wednesday.
An Obama campaign rally is planned for Friday in southwest Ohio.
Click here to hear the Vice President's full remarks from Port Columbus.
Reporter: Dana Jay
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- The hurricane that battered the East Coast Monday wreaked havoc on presidential campaign schedules further west.
President Barack Obama did not appear with former President Bill Clinton in Youngstown, Ohio as planned, sending Vice President Joe Biden on his behalf.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney appeared in Avon Lake, Ohio as planned, but canceled events in Wisconsin and Florida schedule for Monday evening.
The Romney campaign also chose to cancel an appearance in Findlay, Ohio on Tuesday. As of 5:30 Monday evening a scheduled event in Kettering was on hold.
Vice President Joe Biden will no longer appear in Ohio and Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
Ohio Dominican University political rhetoric professor Jim Schnell said, in a race so close, every chance to rally voters can make a difference -- but both candidates did the right thing by canceling events.
“I see this as working in his favor,” Schnell said of President Obama, who has been seen repeatedly doing the job he is trying to keep.
“For Romney to be out campaigning in front of cheering crowds when there’s so much pain in another part of the country would be bad, almost in the realm of bad taste,” Schnell added.
Reporter: Dana Jay
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WORTHINGTON -- Watch the video player to see Anchor/Reporter Adam Aaro live at Worthington Industries for a Mitt Romney rally. Also see where the other candidates are going to be headed.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a longtime Republican, is sticking with President Barack Obama in this year's election.
He told "CBS This Morning" he respects fellow Republican Mitt Romney but thinks he's been vague on many issues.
Powell said the president got the United States out of Iraq, has laid out a plan for leaving Afghanistan "and didn't get us into any new wars."
He also praised Obama's economic performance, saying, that while difficult choices are ahead on taxes, spending and budgetary policies, "steadily, I think we've begun to come out of the dive and we're gaining altitude."
Powell, a retired general, was also a White House national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Powell says he's still a Republican.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- The presidential debates are supposed to help voters make informed decisions, but many still can't make up their minds.
John Mueller, political science professor at Ohio State University, believes the first debate made a difference. He says Monday night's third and final debate on foreign policy was a draw, "They basically punted on this issue, and that may be to Obama's disadvantage in that he has had an advantage in foreign policy."
Columbus resident April Joos was undecided before the debates. Three weeks later she says, "I'm still undecided. I don't think Obama did a good job. I don't think four more years is gonna get it. But I don't think Romney's got anything to bring to the table either." On the subject of the debates, she adds, "They just argued back and forth and rambled on."
Reporter: Mike Kallmeyer
Web Producer: Kellie Hanna
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have underscored the importance of swing state Ohio in a rare joint appearance in Dayton.
Facing a tight race in the pivotal state, Obama urged supporters to work to get out the vote and help him carry their home area and Ohio.
Fire officials estimated the crowd in the Dayton park at 9,500.
Obama carried Ohio in 2008. The Democrat has campaigned in the pivotal battleground state frequently, and his campaign and supporters have devoted a lot of money and resources to Ohio.
However, Republican Mitt Romney's campaign says he has gained momentum with two weeks left until election day. Romney is scheduled to return to Ohio on Thursday, visiting a Cincinnati machine and manufacturing plant that also makes military components.
Reporter: Dana Jay
Web Producer: Ken Hines
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) -- President Barack Obama sharply challenged Mitt Romney on foreign policy in their final campaign debate Monday night, saying, "Every time you've offered an opinion you've been wrong." The Republican coolly responded, "Attacking me is not an agenda" for dealing with a dangerous world.
Romney took the offensive, too. When Obama said the U.S. and its allies have imposed crippling sanctions on Iran to halt nuclear weapons development, the Republican challenger responded that the U.S. should have done more. He declared repeatedly, "We're four years closer to a nuclear Iran."
Despite the debate's stated focus on foreign affairs, time after time the rivals turned the discussion back to the slowly recovering U.S. economy, which polls show is the No. 1 issue for most voters.
They found little agreement on that, but the president and his rival found accord on at least one international topic with domestic political overtones - Israel's security - as they sat at close quarters 15 days before the end of an impossibly close election campaign. Each stressed unequivocal support for Israel when asked how he would respond if the Jewish state were attacked by Iran.
"If Israel is attacked, we have their back," said Romney - moments after Obama vowed, "I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked."
Both also said they oppose direct U.S. military involvement in the efforts to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad.
The debate produced none of the finger-pointing and little of the interrupting that marked the presidential rivals' debate last week, when Obama needed a comeback after a listless performance in their first meeting on Oct. 3.
But there was no mistaking the urgency. The two men frequently sniped at one another even on issues where they agree, and reprised their campaign-long disagreements over the economy, energy, education and other domestic issues despite ground rules that stipulated the debate cover international affairs.
Obama and Romney are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. The final debate behind them, both men intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.
Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.
On the Middle East, Romney said that despite early hopes, the ouster of despotic regimes in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere over the past year has resulted in a "rising tide of chaos." He said the president has failed to come up with a coherent policy to grapple with change sweeping the Middle East, and he added ominously that an al-Qaida-like group has taken over northern Mali.
Anticipating one of Obama's most frequent campaign assertions, Romney said of the man seated nearby, "I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and taking on the leadership of al-Qaida. But we can't kill our way out of this. ... We must have a comprehensive strategy."
More than a half hour later, Obama returned to the subject, saying that Romney had once said it wasn't worth moving heaven and earth to catch one man, a reference to the mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks.
He said he had decided it was "worth heaven and earth."
Obama said he had ended the war in Iraq, was on a path to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and has vowed to bring justice to the attackers of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last month - an assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
He also jabbed at Romney's having said during the campaign that Russia is the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe.
"Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy you seem to want the policies of the 1980s, just like you want to import the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies in the 1920s," Obama said.
Obama was snippy after Romney, criticizing the administration's Pentagon budget, said disapprovingly the U.S. Navy has fewer ships than at any time since the end of World War I.
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them."
Romney offered unusual praise for Obama's war efforts in Afghanistan, declaring the 2010 surge of 33,000 U.S. troops a success and asserting that efforts to train Afghan security forces are on track to enable the U.S. and its allies to put the Afghans fully in charge of security by the end of 2014. He said that U.S. forces should complete their withdrawal on that schedule; previously he has criticized the setting of a specific withdrawal date.
The two men are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. The final debate behind them, they intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.
Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.
Barring a last-minute change in strategy by one campaign or the other, Obama appears on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes.
The battlegrounds account for the remaining 110 electoral votes: Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).
The televised debate brought no cessation to other campaigning.
Obama's campaign launched a television ad in Florida that said the president ended the war in Iraq and has a plan to do the same in Afghanistan, accusing Romney of opposing him on both. It was not clear how often the ad would air, given the fall's overall focus on the economy.
Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in Canton, Ohio, emphasized differences between the two candidates on the war in Afghanistan.
"We will leave Afghanistan in 2014, period. They say it depends," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, like everything with them, it depends. It depends on what day you find these guys."
Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, was in Colorado. "We are in the midst of deciding the kind of country we're going to be, the kind of people we're going to be, for a generation," he said.
Whatever the outcome of the final face-to-face confrontation, the debates have left an imprint on the race. Romney was widely judged the winner of the first debate over a listless president on Oct. 3, and he has risen in polls in the days since. Obama was much more energetic in the second.
Monday night marked the third time in less than a week that the president and his challenger shared a stage, following the feisty 90-minute town-hall-style meeting last Tuesday on Long Island and a white-tie charity dinner two night later where gracious compliments flowed and barbs dipped in humor flew.
At the Al Smith charity dinner, Obama previewed his all-purpose fallback to criticism on international affairs.
"Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden," he said, a reminder of the signature foreign policy triumph of his term, the death at the hand of U.S. special operations forces of the mastermind behind the terror attacks on the United States more than a decade ago.
The president and his challenger agreed long ago to devote one of their three debates to foreign policy, even though opinion polls show voters care most about economic concerns.
Growth has been slow and unemployment high across Obama's tenure in the White House. Romney, a wealthy former businessman, cites his experience as evidence he will put in place policies that can revive the economy.
In recent weeks, the former Massachusetts governor has stepped up his criticism of the president's handling of international matters, although his campaign hasn't spent any of its television advertising budget on commercials on the subject.
In a speech earlier this month, Romney accused the president of an absence of strong leadership in the Middle East, where popular revolutions have swept away autocratic regimes in Egypt and elsewhere in the past two years. He has also accused Obama of failing to support Israel strongly enough, of failing to make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon and of backing cuts in the defense budget that would harm military readiness.
Yet Romney has stumbled several times in attempting to establish his own credentials.
He offended the British when he traveled to England this summer and made comments viewed as critical of their preparation for the Olympic Games.
Democrats pounced when he failed to mention the U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in late August, and officials in both parties were critical of his comments about the attack in Benghazi while the facts were unknown.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- Ohio's importance in this year's presidential race may have increased this week.
There are reports that the Romney campaign is so confident with their lead in North Carolina that they are transferring resources to other states -- specifically Ohio.
The Buckeye State is critical for both candidates. For Romney--it's a must have. No republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. If the Romney leads hold up in North Carolina and Florida, an Ohio win means he would need to win just two other battleground states.
For Obama, a win in Ohio would mean a path to an easier victory. The President wouldn't need states like North Carolina with an Ohio win.
Professor Emeritus from Ohio State and electoral college expert, Herb Weisberg, says "There are a lot of scenarios where Obama wins Ohio and a couple other states, and he wins the election. There's very few scenarios where Romney loses Ohio and still carries the election."
That is why you are sure to see both campaigns blitz the Buckeye State as they race for the 2012 campaign finish line.
Reporter: Mike Kallmeyer
Web Producer: Ken Hines
Watch the video player above as an ad for President Obama is put to the truth test.
COLUMBUS -- ABC 6/FOX 28 is putting 2012 political ads to the truth test. Today we examine an ad from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The is simply titled, 'The Choice', and touches on some of the issues discussed in the first two debates, and makes claims about President Obama's time in office.
The first claim is that median income per family is down $4,300 since Obama took office. This claim is not true according to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2011, the median income per family nationwide was $50,054. When Obama took office in 2009 the number was $52,195. The difference over that time was $2,141, not $4,300.
The second claim is that 23,000,000 Americans are out of work. This is true. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses different ways to measure this. Romney uses what is called a U-6 method and the number is very close to 23,000,000.
The third claim is what the President said when he took office--that he would cut the deficit in half. This is true. President Obama said in February of 2009, "I'm pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office."
The deficit has not been reduced by half, but in fairness to the President, he added, "Now this will not be easy."
Reporter: Mike Kallmeyer
Web Producer: Ken Hines
Watch the video player above for President Obama's 10/17 speech at Ohio University in Athens.
HEBRON, Conn. (AP) -- An 80-year-old Connecticut woman has been charged with larceny and breach of peace after tearing down political signs that included an image of President Barack Obama with an Adolph Hitler-style mustache.
Nancy Lack tells WVIT-TV she was offended by the picture and took down three posters that were being hung last Thursday near the post office on Main Street in Hebron, Conn.
Workers for frequent presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, who were putting up the signs, called police.
Lack says she knew she would get in trouble. But she says she lived through World War II and was angry that someone would portray the president as a Nazi.
She was released on a promise to appear in court next week.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
ATHENS, Ohio (AP) -- President Barack Obama has continued a focus on college campuses with an evening rally at Ohio University in southeastern Ohio.
Obama told the crowd Wednesday that he has two daughters and doesn't want them to be paid less for the same job as a man.
Nineteen-year-old Ohio University student Paris Aaron of Columbus said before the president's speech that he is voting for Obama because he wants to help give the president a chance to finish what he has started. Aaron says he doesn't think starting all over will help the country.
Twenty-year-old Breanna Williams, from Jackson, Ohio, said she also is supporting Obama. Williams says she believes he is "really geared" toward college students and that funding and affordability of higher education are among the top issues for her.
Reporter: Dana Jay
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- President Barack Obama failed to bring any new ideas that could revive the economy during the second presidential debate, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said Wednesday.
Ryan told supporters in the Cleveland area that running mate Mitt Romney followed up a strong first debate with another winning performance.
The Wisconsin congressman said Obama is out of answers and it showed in Tuesday night's debate. "This might be the best President Obama can give us, but it's not what we should settle for," Ryan said.
Later in Columbus, Ryan appeared at an event tailored to display his strength on fiscal issues. Eleven dinner companions at an Italian restaurant on the city's east side peppered him with questions on the federal debt, taxes and Obama's health care law.
"Do you have a whiteboard here?" Ryan quipped with a smile when he was asked to explain how a Romney administration would tackle the deficit.
He inquired when joining the table if diners had already said grace. When the answer was yes, he said he'd say his own private prayer.
Several dozen protesters organized by SEIU Local 1199 and ProgressOhio chanted, "Four more years!" and waved signs outside the event. They brought clean pots and pans and displayed signs that said, "Soup Kitchen Photo Op - NO."
While in northeast Ohio, Ryan mixed politics with football in Ohio -two topics that are unavoidable this fall in the prized swing state - by dropping in on practice at the Cleveland Browns facility with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a lifelong Browns fan.
Both took turns talking with the team.
Ryan told the players he's been impressed by the play of rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, but it turns out he was pointing at backup quarterback Colt McCoy. That got a good laugh out of their teammates. Ryan recovered quickly, mentioning the team's victory over Cincinnati last Sunday.
Ryan also shared his favorite hunting spots with Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, who's also a Wisconsin native. Ryan lamented that he's missing hunting season this fall. "I've got this election thing going on," he told Thomas.
Earlier at Baldwin-Wallace University, Ryan said that Obama's campaign is now trying to scare voters because he can't run on his record. "He gives us a growing debt and no solutions," Ryan said.
The Romney-Ryan ticket says its economic plan would grow jobs in the energy industry and through small businesses, helping to create 12 million jobs.
Obama spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said Romney's plan would end up hurting the middle class and only benefit the wealthy through $5 trillion in tax cuts. "Mitt Romney misled voters time and again last night and refused to explain his indefensible ideas when he was exposed on the emptiness of his own plans," she said.
One dinner guest in Columbus asked Ryan if he could dispel the notion that he and Romney would raise taxes on the middle class. He said it's a mistaken idea perpetuated by "hundreds of millions of dollars in negative advertising."
Ryan said he and Romney have records of cutting taxes and plan to continue to do so if elected.
Rice also joined Ryan at the rally at Baldwin-Wallace University. She told the crowd that it has been a rough decade, starting with the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the economic collapse near the end of the decade. "The last four years have been very tough on people who just want to work hard and make a living," Rice said.
She said the country is at a crossroads, adding: "We cannot continue to spend money that we cannot afford to pay back."
Reporter: Adam Aaro
Web Producer: Ken Hines
ATHENS, Ohio (AP) -- One day after their contentious, finger-pointing debate, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney vied aggressively for the support of women voters Wednesday, as they and their running mates charged across nearly a half-dozen battleground states in the close race for the White House with 20 days to run.
Not even Republicans disputed that Obama's debate performance was much stronger than the listless showing two weeks earlier that helped spark a rise in the polls for Romney. The two rivals meet one more time, next Monday in Florida.
The first post-debate polls were divided, some saying Romney won, others finding Obama did. At least some of the voters who asked the questions in the town-hall style encounter remained uncommitted. "If Gov. Romney could actually provide the jobs, that would be a good thing because we really need them," said Nina Gonzalez, a 2008 Obama voter, neatly summarizing the uncertainty confronting voters in a slow-growth, high-unemployment economy.
Obama wore a pink wristband to show support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month as he campaigned in Iowa and then Ohio, and reminded his audience that the first legislation he signed after becoming president made it easier for women to take pay grievances to court.
Romney took no position on that bill when it passed Congress, and his campaign says he would not seek its repeal. But Obama chided him, saying, "That shouldn't be a complicated question. Equal pay for equal work."
He also jabbed at Romney's remark during Tuesday night's debate that as Massachusetts governor, he received "whole binders full of women" after saying he wanted to appoint more of them to his administration. "We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented women," he said.
"I've got two daughters and I don't want them paid less for the same job as a man," Obama said at an appearance in Athens, Ohio, later Wednesday.
Obama spoke to a crowd of about 14,000 students and supporters at Ohio University, imploring them to vote early. "I want your vote. I am not too proud to beg. I want you to vote," he said.
Romney's campaign launched a new television commercial that seemed designed to take the edge ever so slightly off his opposition to abortion - another example of his October move toward the middle - while urging women voters to keep pocketbook issues uppermost in their minds when they cast their ballots.
"In fact he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life," says a woman in the new ad. Pivoting quickly to economic matters, she adds, "But I'm more concerned about the debt our children will be left with. I voted for President Obama last time, but we just can't afford four more years."
That dovetailed with Romney's personal pitch to an audience in Chesapeake, Va.
"This president has failed American's women. They've suffered in terms of getting jobs," he declared, saying that 3.6 million more of them are in poverty now than when Obama took office.
With recent gains in the polls for Romney, he and the president are locked in an exceedingly close race as they shuttle from one critical state to another and dispatch surrogates ranging from former President Bill Clinton to ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to locations they cannot make on their own.
A little less than three weeks before Election Day, Obama appears on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes.
The remaining 110 electoral votes are divided among the hotly contested battleground states of Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).
As the campaign days dwindled down, the number of television commercials rose higher. According to media buyers who track ads, target voters in the area around Cleveland can expect to see an average of about 120 ads next week paid for by the two candidates and groups supporting them - more than 17 a day. There were similar, if somewhat less intense campaign-by-commercials under way across all the battleground states.
In many cases - Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Nevada among them - competitive races for the Senate and even House contests added to the bombardment. So, too, campaign brochures, piling up in mailboxes earlier than past elections because of widespread pre-election day voting.
There was little mystery in the candidates' concentration on women voters. An AP-GfK survey taken in mid-September, when Obama was leading in the opinion polls, found that 8 percent of all likely votes were women who were either undecided or said they might change their minds.
Polls since the first debate two weeks ago show gains for Romney among women voters, a shift that Obama can ill afford given the traditional Republican advantage among men.
Democrats rebutted Romney's memory of the binders he received as the newly elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002.
On a conference call arranged by the Democratic National Committee, a former executive director of the Massachusetts Government Appointments Project said the group provided the resumes of women qualified for appointment unprompted. "To be perfectly clear, Mitt Romney did not request" them, said Jesse Mermell.
Romney quickly countered with a combination testimonial and fundraising appeal from Kerry Healey, who was his lieutenant governor in Massachusetts. She said he had named numerous women to his administration, adding, "He sought out our counsel, and he listened to our advice. We didn't always agree, but we were always respected."
Vice President Joe Biden's first stop of the day was in Greeley, Colo., where he mocked Romney on the same topic but in terms more pungent than Obama's. "What I can't understand is how he's gotten into this sort of 1950s time warp in terms of women," Biden said. "The idea he had to go and ask where a qualified woman was. He just should have come to my house. He didn't need a binder."
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan was in Berea, Ohio, where he said women were suffering under the economy as the end of Obama's term nears. "Twenty-six million women are trapped in poverty today. That's the highest rate in 17 years," he said. "We need to get people back to work."
In a lighter moment, he stopped by the football practice facility of the Cleveland Browns and lamented missing out on hunting season this fall. "I've got this election thing going on," he told Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- White House Cover-up? Romney and Obama argue over Libya Attack
The white house response to last month's attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was the subject of one of the many heated exchanges in Tuesday night's presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York.
What happened in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th of this year is now clear--it was a planned terrorist attack. White House officials initially said it was an angry mob that acted spontaneously. Republicans say it was a cover-up to downplay terrorism. In the debate, Mitt Romney questioned the President, "You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror? Is that what you're saying?"
The President fired back by saying, "Get the transcript." In that transcript from the rose garden speech on September 12th the President did say, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation." But in what context were the words used? Political Science professor Jonathan Kreger says, "It's a semantics game in terms of what was the President referring to in the Rose Garden." Kreger adds that Mitt Romney made a mistake, "Focusing on that particular word and got into 'he said/she said' about whether that particular word was spoken when the point was a larger point he was trying to make."
The larger point for Republicans was the time line. On September 14th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the attack occurred because of an anti-muslim video. It wasn't until September 19th that the White House officially declared it a terrorist attack. Conservatives say in that rose garden speech, the President's 'Acts of Terror' words referred to the 9-11 anniversary--not Libya.
Reporter: Mike Kallmeyer
Web Producer: Kellie Hanna
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -- An aggressive President Barack Obama accused challenger Mitt Romney of favoring a "one-point plan" to help the rich and leveling offensive criticism about the recent deadly terrorist attack in Libya Tuesday night in a debate crackling with energy and emotion just three weeks before the election.
Romney pushed back hard, saying the middle class "has been crushed over the last four years," that 23 million Americans are struggling to find work and that the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya was part of an unraveling of the administration's foreign policy.
The president was feistier from the outset than he had been in their initial encounter two weeks ago, when he turned in a listless performance that sent shudders through his supporters and helped fuel a rise by Romney in opinion polls nationally and in some battleground states.
Obama challenged Romney on economics and energy policy, accusing him of switching positions and declaring that his economic plan was a "sketchy deal" that the public should reject.
Romney gave as good as he got.
"You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking," the former Massachusetts governor said at one point while Obama was mid-sentence. He said the president's policies had failed to jumpstart the economy and crimped energy production.
The open-stage format left the two men free to stroll freely across a red-carpeted stage, and they did. Their clashes crackled with energy and tension, and the crowd watched raptly as the two sparred while struggling to appear calm and affable before a national television audience.
The rivals disagreed about taxes, measures to reduce the deficit, energy, pay equity for women and health care issues. Immigration prompted yet another clash, Romney saying Obama had failed to pursue the comprehensive legislation he promised at the dawn of his administration, and the president saying Republican obstinacy made a deal impossible.
Under the format agreed to in advance, members of an audience of 82 uncommitted voters posed questions to the president and his challenger.
Nearly all of them concerned domestic policy until one raised the subject of the recent death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in a terrorist attack at an American post in Benghazi.
Romney said it took Obama a long time to admit the episode had been a terrorist attack, but Obama said he had said so the day after in an appearance in the Rose Garden outside the White House.
When moderator Candy Crowley of CNN said the president had in fact done so, Obama, prompted, "Say that a little louder, Candy."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility for the death of Ambassador L. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but Obama said bluntly, "I'm the president and I'm always responsible.
Romney said it was "troubling" that Obama continued with a campaign event in Las Vegas on the day after the attack in Libya, an event he said had "symbolic significance and perhaps even material significance."
Obama seemed to bristle. He said it was offensive for anyone to allege that he or anyone in his administration had used the incident for political purposes. "That's not what I do."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON, DC -- President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney practiced for their second debate as the economy posted another set of positive numbers just over three weeks from Election Day.
The stakes for Tuesday's town-hall debate at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island are particularly high given Romney's commanding performance and Obama's lackluster showing in their first encounter — followed by tightening national polls.
After months of firing up core supporters, the two candidates are focusing on undecided voters and independents.
The weak economy has been a compelling issue for Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan.
But recent statistics show slow but steady improvements — including Monday's report that Americans stepped up their spending at retail businesses in September.
It follows an earlier report showing unemployment falling to 7.8 percent, dipping below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office.
That put some wind at his back. And it places the GOP ticket in the delicate position of stressing economic weaknesses amid strengthening numbers.
"We are on the wrong track," Ryan insisted Monday.
Campaigning in home state Wisconsin, Ryan decried the government's "mountain of debt" approaching $16.2 trillion — up from a $10.7 trillion national debt when Obama took office.
Yet some recent improvements have occurred there, too.
The deficit in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 inched down to $1.1 trillion from $1.3 trillion the year before. While it's the fourth straight year of trillion-plus shortfalls, it was better than projected. Government tax revenues increased as more people got jobs and received income.
Obama prepped for the debate at a resort in Williamsburg, Va. Romney did likewise near his Massachusetts home.
Vice President Joe Biden, who aggressively debated Ryan last Thursday, cancelled campaign appearances in Nevada to attend Tuesday's funeral services in Pennsylvania for former Sen. Arlen Specter.
Reporter: Mike Kallmeyer
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four weeks before the election, Republicans used a politically charged House hearing to confront State Department officials about security at the U.S. consulate in Libya and assail the Obama administration's early response to the killing of the ambassador and three other Americans there.
GOP lawmakers refused to accept the department's explanation Wednesday that protection judged adequate for the threat was overwhelmed by an unprecedented assault in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
They also rejected Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy's explanation that officials were relying on the best intelligence available in characterizing the attack afterward as stemming from a protest over an anti-Islam Internet video rather than a deliberate, planned act of terrorism.
A top State official acknowledged she had declined to approve more U.S. security as violence in Benghazi spiked, saying the department wanted to train Libyans to protect the consulate.
"I made the best decisions I could with the information I had," said Charlene R. Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security.
Regardless of allegations of blame, there is no dispute over the tragic result. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans - including two former Navy SEALs - were killed in what administration officials now describe as an act of terrorism.
In statements immediately after the attack, neither President Barack Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned terrorism. And both gave credence to the notion that the attack was related to protests about the privately made anti-Islam video.
"Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," Clinton said on the night of the attack. "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
Five days later, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said her best information at the time was that the attack stemmed from a protest that became violent.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that in hindsight "there is no question that the security was not enough to prevent that tragedy from happening. There were four Americans killed."
Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee tried to blame Republicans for cutting more than $300 million in diplomatic security funds worldwide.
"The fact is that, since 2011, the House has cut embassy security by hundreds of millions of dollars below the amounts requested by the president," said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee's senior Democrat.
Lamb, the official in charge of protecting U.S. embassies and consulates, told the committee, "We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11."
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., asked Lamb if she turned down requests for more security in Benghazi.
"Yes sir, I said personally I would not support it," she replied. "We were training local Libyans and army men" to provide security, a policy in force at U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., retorted there was "as much as 30 percent turnover in the people you were training."
Eric Nordstrom, who was the top security official in Libya earlier this year, testified he was criticized for seeking more security. "There was no plan and it was hoped it would get better," he said.
Nordstrom told the committee that conversations he had with people in Washington led him to believe that it was "abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?"
He said he was so exasperated at one point he told a colleague that "for me the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who headed a 16-member military force in Libya, disputed State Department officials who said the special operations troops were replaced by people with the same skill sets.
The skills of his troops were "way above the skill level of local (forces) armed with a pistol," Wood said, adding he was he was frustrated that pleas for more security were not met.
"We were fighting a losing battle, we weren't even allowed to keep what we had," he testified.
Nordstrom acknowledged in response to a question from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that while the State Department was refusing more security, his and others' pay was increased because he was serving in such a dangerous area.
Kennedy defended Rice for her comments indicating the attack was a protest gone awry.
"If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, Sept. 16, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said," he said. "The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point. As time went on, additional information became available. Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday after the attack."
Kennedy, a four-decade veteran of the Foreign Service, said the department uses the best information from people on the ground at diplomatic posts around the world as well as experts in Washington in assessing risk and allocating security resources.
"The assault that occurred on the evening of Sept. 11, however, was an unprecedented attack by dozens of heavily armed men," he said.
Meanwhile, Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, met Wednesday with Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf and other officials in Tripoli on ways Libya can better help the U.S. track down those responsible for the deaths at the consulate.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
Watch the video player to see Anchor Adam Aaro speak one-on-one with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who was campaigning in Mt. Vernon, Ohio for Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney.
DENVER (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he would honor temporary work permits for young illegal immigrants who were allowed to stay in the U.S. because of an Obama administration decision this summer.
Romney tells The Denver Post that people who are able to earn the two-year visas to stay and work wouldn't see them revoked under a Romney administration. He says he would put a comprehensive immigration reform plan into place before those visas expire.
In June, President Barack Obama announced a new policy that allows some young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to avoid deportation. Romney had not previously said how he would address their status, though he criticized Obama for circumventing Congress to make the change.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
DENVER (AP) -- After dozens of hours of practice, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney arrived in Colorado on Monday for his first debate with President Barack Obama, telling thousands of voters he thinks the debates will be about "something bigger" than just who appears to emerge the winner.
"In my view it's not so much winning and losing or even the people themselves, the president and myself -- it's about something bigger than that," Romney told a cheering crowd of thousands.
The Republican's campaign has been counting on the debates with President Barack Obama to set Romney on a path to winning the presidency. Romney spent more than eight days in September holding mock debates, poring over policy briefing books and sparring with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who stood in for Obama.
Romney planned another day of preparation Tuesday at his hotel on the outskirts of Denver, where most of his top advisers and at least a dozen more junior aides milled about in the lobby on Monday night.
They'd just come from the rally, held at a cavernous hangar at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, where Romney tried to enunciate a clearer message than the varying pitches he's made to voters in recent weeks. Though his campaign once talked about nothing but the economy, all the time, he's recently diverged into subjects including wealth distribution, Medicare and foreign policy as he has looked to seize any opportunity to gain ground on the incumbent president.
Romney also brought up immigration in an interview published Tuesday by The Denver Post, saying he would honor temporary work permits for young illegal immigrants who were allowed to stay in the U.S. because of an Obama administration decision.
The message wasn't as muddled by Monday night's rally. J, O, B, S -- jobs -- was spelled out giant banners posted behind the stage where Romney stood, with supporters perched on stacked risers so they appeared next to the giant letters.
"Jobs is job one under my administration. We're going to get America working again by helping small business," Romney said, debuting a new line midway through his standard campaign speech.
He was introduced -- briefly -- by former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, who took the stage as an AC/DC rock song played and the crowd erupted with cheers. It was Romney's first event with voters since Friday, as he spent the weekend at home in Massachusetts raising money and preparing for the debate.
Romney, whose campaign slogan is "Believe in America," declared his love of country and said the voters who showed up to hear him were demonstrating their own care for the nation.
"I love America. I love the beauty of its rocks and rills and templed hills but a lot more than that I love the beauty of the American soul," Romney said. "The fact that you're here tonight, the fact that you care about an election shows how much we care in America."
Romney spent yet another morning Monday with Portman and top aides at a Boston-area hotel, getting ready for Wednesday night. He boarded his logo-plastered campaign plane in the afternoon, joined by nearly all of his top advisers: strategist Ed Gillespie, longtime aides Beth Myers and Peter Flaherty, confidante and former colleague Bob White, and top strategist and admaker Stuart Stevens.
The only adviser to speak formally with reporters on the Monday flight was spokesman Kevin Madden, who downplayed expectations for the first matchup with Obama.
"We do see it, again, as not one event but these next 35-plus days as a larger conversation that we're going to be having with voters that includes debates," Madden said.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- ABC 6/FOX 28 has obtained exclusive access to the Republican National Committee's (RNC) "Press Corp Briefing Book" titled "Wrong for Ohio, The Story of How Obama's Policies Have Failed the Buckeye State".
The 20 page booklet looks into statistics and facts published by news outlets across Ohio during the past few years. The RNC publication details topics which may be important to Ohio voters, especially those who may be undecided.
As the election draws near, the RNC is getting this information out in a format that is easy to access and reference. Ohio's battleground status gives the committee even more reason to inform Buckeye state voters that may still have questions, or give supporters easy access to information they can share with friends that may be undecided come November.
It is important to point out that there is no reference to the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, within the publication. It is simply the RNC's representation of how, during Obama's presidency, his policies have affected the people in Ohio.
Take a look at the report here, and make your own deductions from the information inside.
We are dedicated to helping all voters inform and educate themselves for the upcoming election, no matter the candidate or issue. When we receive a similar publication from the Democratic National Committee, we will publish that as well. ABC 6/FOX 28 does not endorse any candidate or issue.
Web Producer: Derek Drake
BOSTON -- Ohio is an important swing state in the upcoming November election, and as such, another string of campaign stops across the state have been announced by the campaign for Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), will be hitting the campaign trail once again next week. A bus tour titled "Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class" will traverse the Buckeye State September 24-26 with a stop scheduled for the Columbus area on Tuesday, September 25.
Ryan will kick-off the tour in Lima on September 24, then the team comes together when Romney joins up with him in Cincinnati.
Romney will finish the tour solo from there heading next to Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland and ending in Toledo. Here's how the cities pan out on the schedule:
Watch the video player above as ABC 6/FOX 28's Shawn Kline sits down with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania's highest court on Tuesday told a lower court judge to stop a tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification from taking effect in this year's presidential election if he finds voters cannot get easy access to ID cards or if he thinks voters will be disenfranchised.
The 4-2 decision by the state Supreme Court sends the case back to a Commonwealth Court judge who initially rejected a request to stop the divisive law from going forward. The high court asked the judge, Robert Simpson, for his opinion by Oct. 2.
If Simpson finds there will be no voter disenfranchisement and that IDs are easily obtained, then the law can stand, the Supreme Court said.
"It's certainly a very positive step in the right direction in that the court recognizes that the state does not make adequate provision for people to get the ID that they would need to vote," said David Gersch, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs challenging the law's constitutionality. "In addition, there is a practical problem with getting the ID to people in the short time available."
The Republican-penned law passed over the objections of Democrats and ignited a furious debate over voting rights, making it a high-profile issue in the contest for the state's prized 20 electoral votes between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Republicans, long suspicious of ballot-box stuffing in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, say the law would deter election fraud. But Democrats pointed to a blank trail of evidence of such fraud, and charged that Republicans are trying to steal the White House by making it harder for the elderly, disabled, minorities, the poor and college students to vote.
The law - among the nation's toughest - has inspired protests, warnings of Election Day chaos and voter education drives. It was already a political lightning rod when a top state Republican lawmaker boasted to a GOP dinner in June that the ID requirement "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
The plaintiffs - eight registered Democrats, plus the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - had sought to block the law from taking effect in this year's election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality.
Some of the people who sued over the law had raised the claim that they might be unable to vote because they lacked the necessary documents, such as an official birth record, to get the law's ID card of last resort: A state nondriver photo ID that is subject to federal requirements because it can be used for non-voting purposes, such as boarding an airplane.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney sought to get his campaign back on track Tuesday after the revelation of a video in which he said nearly half of Americans "believe they are victims," are dependent on the government and bound to vote for President Barack Obama. The Obama campaign worked to spread the quotes to any voters who hadn't already heard them.
Obama himself headed for New York for an appearance on David Letterman's TV couch and a fundraiser with Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Romney planned no apology but was expected to respond to questions about the video by reinforcing the reaction he delivered Monday night: that Obama favors "a government-centered society" with people dependent on public support.
Obama's campaign, seeing an opportunity to build on its earlier efforts to cast the Republican as out of touch with average Americans, emailed a fundraising appeal to supporters and posted a video online asking voters to watch Romney's comments and respond.
"I actually felt sick to my stomach," one woman says in the web video.
Another woman says, "That's not somebody who I'm thinking, `Oh, I want him as my president.'"
Romney advisers concede the video came at a bad time - seven weeks before Election Day and with early voting beginning in two dozen states by this weekend. They acknowledge the remarks may dominate news coverage for days but dispute the notion that Romney's comments could fundamentally change the election.
The unscripted moment was reminiscent of the 2008 campaign, when Obama was caught telling the wealthy wing of his party at a private fundraiser in San Francisco that some residents of depressed rural areas get bitter and "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."
In the Romney video, recorded at a Florida fundraiser in May, the candidate says 47 percent of Americans don't pay taxes and believe they are entitled to extensive government support. "My job is not to worry about those people," he said.
After the video posted late Monday afternoon on Mother Jones magazine's website, Romney told reporters that while his comments were "not elegantly stated," he stood by his remarks.
"Those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government," Romney said in Costa Mesa, Calif., doubling down on his statement.
Romney running mate Paul Ryan focused on the limited-government argument while campaigning in New Hampshire, without mentioning the video. He mistakenly called it the "Ryan-Romney plan" for a stronger middle class before correcting himself and promising the two would put Americans back to work rather than encourage dependency on government.
Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in Iowa, declined to comment on the video. "I'll let his words speak for themselves," Biden said while shaking hands with voters after a speech in Ottumwa.
A pro-Obama super political action committee quickly pushed up the air date for a new television advertisement in response to the video.
The ad, from Priorities USA Action, was previously shown online and never mentions the Romney video because it was produced before it became public. But the super PAC says it believes the ad's message serves as a counter to the Republican nominee's words and bought time to begin airing it as early as Tuesday on stations in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
"Doesn't Mitt Romney understand we can't rebuild America by tearing down the middle class?" the narrator says. The group also is likely to start running new ads using Romney's words from the fundraising video.
Obama was told about the video Monday afternoon by staff traveling with him on a campaign trip to Ohio. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether Obama had watched the video or to characterize the president's reaction to Romney's remarks.
"Setting aside what Gov. Romney thinks, I can tell you that the president certainly doesn't think that men and women on Social Security are irresponsible or victims, that students are irresponsible or are victims," Carney said.
The president has not publicly commented on the video, but could do so Tuesday when he tapes an interview with David Letterman and delivers remarks at a fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. After that, Obama was set to collect nearly $4 million at a $40,000-a-ticket fundraiser at a Manhattan nightclub with husband and wife musicians Jay-Z and Beyonce.
Romney had no public appearances scheduled Tuesday and planned to raise money in Salt Lake City and in Dallas with former first lady Laura Bush at the Bushes' Texas home.
Looking to change the subject, Romney's campaign rolled out a new television ad featuring a mother and infant, aimed at cutting into Obama's advantage with female voters. It argued that Obama's economic policies would make women's lives harder.
In the video, Romney said 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. About 46 percent of Americans owed no federal income tax in 2011, although many of them paid other forms of taxes. More than 16 million elderly Americans avoid federal income taxes solely because of tax breaks that apply only to seniors, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
In the clip released by Mother Jones, Romney also is asked about the "Palestinian problem." He gives a rambling response, then says "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace" and "the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- Watch the video player above as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talks with ABC 6/FOX 28 anchor Bob Kendrick about some of the important issues facing Americans as the November election draws nearer.
Reporter: Bob Kendrick
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney dug in Wednesday on his charge that President Barack Obama's campaign is driven by "division and attack and hatred," criticism aimed at cutting into Obama's likeability and personal appeal with voters.
In some of his harshest words yet against the president, Romney said Obama was "running just to hang onto power, and I think he would do anything in his power" to remain in office. Romney's comments escalated an already acrimonious campaign fueled by negative and sometimes false advertisements, as well as personal insults from the candidates and their surrogates.
Obama's campaign said Romney's fresh assertions seemed "unhinged."
Romney replied: "I think unhinged would have to characterize what we've seen from the president's campaign."
"These personal attacks, I think, are just demeaning to the office of the White House," he added.
The latest rhetorical scuffle erupted Tuesday after Vice President Joe Biden told a largely black audience in Danville, Va., that Republicans would seek to "unchain Wall Street" and "put y'all back in chains" by loosening Wall Street regulations.
Biden later said he had meant to use the term "unshackled." But he did not apologize, and he mocked the Romney campaign for showing outrage.
In his interview Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," Romney said: "I can't speak for anybody else, but I can say that I think the comments of the vice president were one more example of a divisive effort to keep from talking about the issues."
Romney's onslaught comes as polls show Obama with a narrow lead over his Republican rival less than three months before the Nov. 6 election. On Saturday, Romney named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a pick aimed at energizing his party's conservative base.
Now Romney, straying from his campaign's efforts to stay singularly focused on jobs and the economy, is targeting Obama's greatest strength — his likeability.
Every major poll in the past two months has found Obama's favorability rating in positive territory, while Romney's languishes at about even or worse and has deteriorated in some recent surveys.
Some of Romney's efforts to chip away at Obama's likeability have focused on negative ads run by the president's campaign and a super political action committee supporting him. Priorities USA Action ran a commercial suggesting Romney was personally responsible for the death from cancer of the wife of a man who worked at a steel plant that was bought and subsequently shut down by Romney's venture capital firm, Bain Capital.
"If you look at the ads that have been described and the divisiveness based upon income, age, ethnicity and so forth, it's designed to bring a sense of enmity and jealousy and anger," Romney said Wednesday.
The Romney campaign has run its own negative ads, including one widely discredited by independent fact-checkers that accuses Obama of gutting welfare reform. Romney's team is also running an ad that criticizes Obama for raiding the Medicare trust fund, a charge the president's team labeled dishonest and hypocritical.
Romney was holding private fundraisers Wednesday in North Carolina and Alabama. The president was campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, the final day of his three-day bus trip through the Midwestern swing state. First lady Michelle Obama was joining the president for their first joint campaign appearance since May.
Before Romney unleashed his striking criticism of the president's campaign, much of the White House race this week had focused on Ryan's austere budget proposals.
Obama's campaign was launching state-specific efforts to target lesser-known elements of Ryan's budget, expanding beyond its opposition to the Republican vice presidential candidate's Medicare overhaul.
The developing Obama strategy comes as Romney and Ryan make clear they plan to campaign aggressively on Medicare, not run away from it. In person and in a television ad, the Republicans argued Tuesday that Obama is the one who cut spending for Medicare to put money toward his divisive health care overhaul.
In states with large military and veteran populations — Florida, Ohio and Virginia among them — the Obama campaign plans to attack Ryan's proposed cuts for veterans' benefits and care, a campaign official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the campaign strategy publicly and requested anonymity.
In Colorado, Ohio and Iowa, the campaign sees opportunities to capitalize on Ryan's proposed cuts to clean energy industries that are taking hold in those states. The Obama team will argue that cutting those investments would essentially cede new energy technologies — and the jobs that could come with them — to countries like China, the official said.
In Nevada and several other states, the campaign plans to push the impact of Ryan's budget on education, citing estimates that it would cut 200,000 children a year from Head Start, an early education program, and reduce Pell grants for 10 million college students.
The campaign launched an ad Tuesday in five states — Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia — that links Romney directly to the Ryan budget's impact on college grants.
Obama's team may launch other paid advertising on elements of Ryan's budget soon. But for now, the campaign is focused on getting its message out in local media and directly to voters through its ample grass-roots network, which still trumps Romney's ground game in some states.
Despite ramping up new areas of attack, Obama's campaign is still eager to link Romney to Ryan's Medicare proposals, both on the national level and in battleground states with a significant number of voters over the age of 65, including Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
The president's pollsters wrote in a campaign memo that Ryan's Medicare proposals are a "game changer" in Florida, the battleground state with the most electoral votes up for grabs in November.
Ryan, interviewed on Fox News Channel, said he and Romney believe Medicare can be a winning issue for Republicans in the fall. "Absolutely, because we're the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare," he said.
Ryan didn't say so, but the budgets he has written in the House both called for leaving in place the cuts to Medicare that he now criticizes. Romney has consistently favored restoring the funds, and his running mate said, "I joined the Romney ticket."
Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner criticized Ryan's answers, saying the Wisconsin congressman is "not ready for prime time."
"First, he attacked the president for the very same Medicare savings that he includes in his own budget," Kanner said in a statement. "In the same breath, he falsely claimed that the Romney-Ryan budget protects Medicare — in fact, their plan would end Medicare as we know it, leaving seniors with nothing but a voucher in place of the guaranteed benefits they rely on today."
The Obama campaign released a web video Wednesday that declares Romney and Ryan "plan to end Medicare as we know it." It features news commentators and liberal analysts such as economist Paul Krugman declaring that Ryan's House Republican budget would mean millions of older Americans would be unable to afford health care.
The video declares that Romney has lied about Obama's record on Medicare, and says Obama's proposal cuts payments to Medicare providers but offers more benefits to Medicare participants.
Romney and the Republican National Committee also released a new Spanish-language TV ad Wednesday highlighting Obama's economic policies. Romney's campaign didn't say where it would run or how much money they plan to spend on it.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. (AP) -- House Speaker John Boehner is comparing Republican Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate to John Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who won the White House in 1960.
The Ohio Republican says Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan is also a good-looking, articulate young man. Boehner said he figures Ryan will do well boosting interest in the GOP in such places as college campuses.
Romney introduced Ryan as his vice presidential pick on Saturday. Boehner called it a "pretty bold" choice.
The House speaker commented Monday while addressing supporters of GOP House candidate Jason Plummer in southwestern Illinois. Plummer faces Democrat Bill Enyart in southern Illinois' 12th Congressional District.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS-- Will he or won't he be Mitt Romney's vice presidential candidate?
That's the question Sen. Rob Portman, (R)-Ohio, seems to get the most lately.
In an exclusive interview this week, ABC 6 and FOX 28 reporter Dana Jay had a chance to ask him some other questions about the adventures that help keep him sharp even during a grueling election season.
Reporter: Dana Jay
Web Producer: Ken Hines
CINCINNATI (AP) -- President Barack Obama will campaign next week in northern Ohio.
His campaign says events are planned Wednesday in Mansfield and Akron. Details will be announced later.
The pace of campaign visits to Ohio has been busy. There has been heavy TV advertising across the swing state, with more than three months left before the general election.
The president made a two-day bus tour across northern Ohio in early July, followed by a July 16 rally in Cincinnati. His wife, Michelle, campaigned earlier this week in Columbus and Dayton.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney was in Toledo and Bowling Green in mid-July, after making a three-city bus tour in mid-June.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WESTERVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- Michelle Obama says the presidential campaign is about choices involving the economy, health care and college education.
Obama told a crowd of around 2,000 at a suburban Columbus, Ohio, high school gymnasium on Tuesday that the country must decide whether to go forward with the initiatives her husband has undertaken or let the progress slip away.
She said the country is better off because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the return of troops from Iraq and the auto bailout.
The first lady planned a second rally in battleground Ohio at the convention center in Dayton later Tuesday.
Her visit follows campaign stops made last week by the president and Vice President Joe Biden.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney also made three stops in Ohio on Wednesday.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- Marking what President Jay McDonald called “quite a shift” the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police Monday stood by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s run for re-election.
It marks the first time in 24 years that the organization has endorsed a democrat for U.S. Senate -- and it could foreshadow a change at the national level.
FOP members point to where Brown stood on Senate Bill 5 to explain their endorsement.
“When we fought to protect every single law enforcement officer in the state of Ohio from the evils of Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2, Sen. Brown had our back and now we will have his,” McDonald send.
An effort to repeal Senate Bill 5, the controversial state law that would have limited collective bargaining for public employees, appeared on the November 2011 ballot as Issue 2.
The law was backed by the Ohio Republican Party.
National FOP President Chuck Canterbury released a statement supporting the Ohio chapter’s decision to endorse Brown.
The National Fraternal Order of Police endorsed John McCain for president in 2008.
Canterbury said he envisioned a scenario where the organization didn’t endorse a presidential candidate this year because enough members have been disgruntled by decisions of Republican governors and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s support for those decisions.
For example, Canterbury said, Romney stood with Gov. John Kasich, (R )-Ohio, who was behind the push for Senate Bill 5.
“I think in a traditional police union that has quite a bit of conservative values, some of the comments Gov. Romney has made during the campaign have hurt him with our membership,” Canterbury said, pointing also to what he viewed as the candidate’s support for right to work legislation and pension changes for police and teachers.
The National FOP only makes an endorsement in the presidential race if two-thirds of the delegations favor one candidate over another, Canterbury said.
A spokesman for Romney’s campaign declined to comment for this story.
A spokesman for Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is challenging Brown, said the Republican will support police officers regardless of any endorsement.
Reporter: Dana Jay
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden is keeping up the attacks on Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in Ohio
Biden said in a speech Thursday at a Columbus union hall that Romney outsourced jobs while running the private equity firm Bain Capital, a claim the Romney campaign has rejected.
Biden also criticized the Republican for opposing President Barack Obama's bailout of the auto industry.
The vice president was in Ohio to highlight the administration's support for the auto industry and the increase in Ohio manufacturing jobs.
The pace of campaigning by the two sides in the state has been picking up in recent weeks.
Biden's trip comes three days after the president held a town hall in Cincinnati. Romney made three stops in Ohio on Wednesday.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
BOWLING GREEN -- Watch the video player above for ABC 6/FOX 28 Political Reporter Dana Jay's interview with Mitt Romney aide Kevin Madden.
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) -- A defiant Mitt Romney brushed aside more calls for the release of his tax returns on Wednesday and instead accused President Barack Obama of protecting his job at the expense of millions of unemployed Americans.
Intensifying his attacks as Obama focused on official meetings in Washington, the Republican presidential candidate told an overflowing Ohio crowd that the Democrat hasn't met with his jobs council in more than six months. In that time, however, Romney says Obama held 100 fundraisers.
"His priority is not creating jobs for you," Romney declared. "His priority is trying to keep his own job. And that's why he's going to lose it."
For the often-reserved Romney, the fiery rhetoric marks an aggressive shift as he struggles to answer questions about his business career and personal tax returns. The former businessman, who would be among the nation's wealthiest presidents if elected, has broken from tradition so far, having released just one year of personal income tax returns and promised to release a second.
But in speeches across four states this week, Romney has thrilled supporters with aggressive attacks on Obama and charges of "crony capitalism." At the same time, the Republican's campaign has teased reporters with news that Romney's selection of a running mate could come any day, forcing new attention on what may be the most important decision of the campaign so far.
National polls suggest that the candidates are locked in a tight race less than four months before voters weigh in. Obama was expected to return to campaigning Thursday for a two-day swing though Florida.
The growing war of words between the campaigns drew a response from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who took a rare step into the presidential race Wednesday.
Congress' top Republican told reporters in Washington that Obama's criticism of Romney's career and taxes are meant to distract from the administration's handling of the economy. Boehner said Obama's questions are an "attack on the private sector" and show that the president "doesn't give a damn about middle-class Americans who are out there looking for work."
The speaker also offered a warning for those, including fellow Republicans, who are calling on Romney to make more tax returns public. "The American people are asking, `Where are the jobs?'" Boehner said. "They're not asking where the hell the tax returns are. It's not about tax returns, it's about the economy."
The warning didn't quiet the critics of Romney's stand on tax returns.
"If you're going to run for president, it's not necessarily comfortable but it has become a tradition and it's an important one, you make your tax returns available because you think the American people deserve that kind of transparency," Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Several high-profile Republicans joined the call for transparency, including Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who challenged Romney for the GOP nomination earlier in the year.
Perry, who released his tax returns dating back to 1992, said anyone running for office should make public as much personal information as possible to help voters decide. In an editorial, the conservative National Review also urged Romney to release more tax returns even though it agreed with him that Obama's camp wanted them for a "fishing expedition."
The Romney campaign offered a multipronged counter attack.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who features prominently in speculation about Romney's choice for a running mate, vigorously defended Romney's position.
"There is no claim or no credible indication that he's done anything wrong," Pawlenty said on "CBS This Morning."
Senior Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom refused to talk about the issue when asked about it before Romney's rally in Bowling Green. "That's been discussed ad nauseum," he said in declining to respond to Carney's comment.
The single year of tax returns released by Romney show investments and off-shore accounts scattered across the globe, including Switzerland and Grand Cayman.
But Romney's newfound aggression forced the Obama team to answer some uncomfortable questions as well. Asked why the president's jobs council has not met for six months, Carney said there was no specific reason.
"The president has obviously got a lot on his plate," Carney told reporters. "But he continues to solicit and receive advice from numerous folks outside the administration about the economy, about ideas that he can act on with Congress or administratively to help the economy grow and help it create jobs."
Romney also released a TV ad accusing Obama of sending tax dollars overseas. The ad says Obama sent stimulus money to "friends, donors, campaign supporters and special interest groups" and charges that taxpayer dollars went to projects in Finland and China.
Romney also seized on comments Obama made last week in Virginia.
Addressing the role of government in the American economy, the president said, in part: "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." He added: "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
Romney lashed out at the remarks while in Bowling Green, in keeping with a strategy his campaign says will be a theme for the week, if not longer.
"This is the height of foolishness," Romney said. "Barack Obama's attempt to denigrate and diminish the achievement of the individual diminishes us all."
Meanwhile, speculation about Romney's selection of a running mate continued. In Ohio, he was asked for assurances that he would select a conservative vice president.
"I can assure you that even though I have not chosen the person who will be my vice president, that person will be a conservative," Romney said. "They will believe in conservative principles."
Earlier in the day, Romney's wife, Ann, shed some light on the vice presidential search. In an interview with ABC News, scheduled for broadcast Thursday, Ann Romney said her husband had yet to settle on a candidate.
"We are certainly talking a lot. This last week, this last weekend, there was a lot of discussion," she said, according to excerpts released by the network. "There was a lot of talk. We're not quite there yet. And we're going to be there soon."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says President Barack Obama cares more about his own job than about finding jobs for millions of unemployed Americans.
A fiery Romney told Ohio supporters Wednesday that the president hasn't met with his jobs council in more than six months. But in that time, Romney says the Democrat has held 100 fundraisers.
The fresh attack comes as Democrats and a growing number of Republicans push Romney to release his income tax returns. The presidential contender has promised to release two years of returns by Election Day. That breaks a tradition started by Romney's father, who released 12 years of tax papers.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney says the public deserves transparency. He's joined by Republicans such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Mitt Romney plans to stay on the attack in the race for the White House, but mounting pressure on the Republican presidential candidate to release his tax returns threatens to stunt his momentum as he courts voters across key Midwestern battlegrounds. The top Republican on Capitol Hill defended Romney on Wednesday, saying the campaign is "not about tax returns, it's about the economy."
Romney was taking his fight against President Barack Obama to Ohio on Wednesday, building off fiery speeches in Pennsylvania the day before in which he accused the Democrat of believing government is more vital to a thriving economy than the nation's workers and dreamers.
"I'm convinced he wants Americans to be ashamed of success," Romney declared Tuesday in the Pittsburgh area as hundreds of supporters cheered him on.
Having spent most of Tuesday courting donors across Texas, Obama was spending Wednesday at the White House before beginning a two-day campaign swing through Florida. His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, was speaking at a campaign fundraiser in Birmingham, Ala.
Democrats have pressed for the release of more of Romney's tax returns and have hounded him over discrepancies about when he left his private equity firm, Bain Capital. Obama has been trying to keep Romney focused on matters other than the sluggish economy, even releasing a single-shot TV ad Tuesday that suggests Romney gamed the system so well that he may not have paid any taxes at all for years.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took a rare step into the presidential race Wednesday, telling reporters in Washington that Obama's criticism of Romney's career and taxes are meant to distract from the administration's handling of the economy.
Boehner said Obama's questions are an "attack on the private sector" and show that the president "doesn't give a damn about middle-class Americans who are out there looking for work."
Boehner also warned those, including fellow Republicans, who are calling on Romney to make more of his tax returns public.
"The American people are asking, `Where are the jobs?' Boehner said. "They're not asking where the hell the tax returns are. It's not about tax returns, it's about the economy."
In response, White House spokesman Jay Carney said of Obama that the middle class is the "principal preoccupation of his presidency." Carney called Boehner's comment "astounding" given the policies Obama is pushing, such as continuing a tax cut solely for the middle class.
Obama's campaign released a web video Wednesday questioning Romney's claims that he had "no responsibility whatsoever" at Bain after February 1999, when Romney says he left the firm. SEC filings list him as sole owner and CEO through February 2001.
After being on his heels for several days, Romney launched an aggressive counterattack this week, punctuated by biting speeches, conference calls and a TV ad Wednesday accusing Obama of "crony capitalism." The ad says Obama sent stimulus money to "friends, donors, campaign supporters and special interest groups" and charges that taxpayer dollars went to projects in Finland and China.
Romney also has seized on comments Obama made last week in Virginia.
Making a point about the supportive role government plays in building the nation, the president said, in part: "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
Obama later added: "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
At a Pittsburgh fundraiser Tuesday evening, Romney lashed out at the remark, a strategy his campaign says will be a theme for the week, if not longer.
"It's foolish on its face and shocking that a president of the United States would not understand the power of entrepreneurship and innovation," Romney said. "It is an attack on the very premise that makes America such a powerful economic engine."
For the often-reserved Romney, the fresh attacks marked a substantial escalation in aggression for a candidate who has struggled to answer questions about his business career and personal tax returns. The former businessman, who would be among the nation's wealthiest presidents if elected, has so far released just one year of personal income tax returns and promised to release a second.
That's a stark deviation from a tradition created in part by Romney's father, George, a presidential candidate a generation ago who released 12 years of his returns.
A defiant Romney has accused the Obama campaign of using the issue to distract voters from his handling of the economy less than four months before the Nov. 6 election.
But it's unclear if Romney's new strategy will be enough to change the subject. Several prominent Republicans joined Democrats in pushing Romney for more transparency.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry - who challenged Romney for the GOP nomination - became the latest top conservative to pressure Romney to open his finances. Perry, who has released his tax returns dating back to 1992, said anyone running for office should make public as much personal information as possible to help voters decide.
The conservative National Review also urged Romney to release more tax returns even though it agreed with him that Obama's camp wanted them for a "fishing expedition."
"By drawing out the argument over the returns, Romney is playing into the president's hands," the magazine said in an online editorial. "He should release them, respond to any attacks they bring, and move on."
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Romney will not bow to the pressure.
"The governor has gone above and beyond what's required for disclosure," Madden said. "The situation remains the same."
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who features prominently in speculation about Romney's choice for a running mate, vigorously defended Romney's limited tax release.
"There is no claim or no credible indication that he's done anything wrong," Pawlenty said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning."
Pawlenty accused Obama's campaign of "hanging shiny objects before the public and the press, and the press is taking the bait."
Romney's wife, Ann, meanwhile, shed some light Wednesday on her husband's vice presidential search. A top aide to the candidate earlier had suggested that an announcement could have come by the end of the week.
In an interview with ABC News, scheduled for broadcast Thursday, Ann Romney said her husband had yet to settle on a candidate.
"We're not quite there yet," she said, according to excerpts released by the network.
Separately, Romney's campaign was forced to apologize after a supporter questioned Obama's patriotism.
In a conference call Tuesday arranged by the campaign, former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu told reporters he wished Obama "would learn how to be an American." He later apologized.
"I made a mistake. I shouldn't have used those words. And I apologize for using those words," Sununu told CNN. "But I don't apologize for the idea that this president has demonstrated that he does not understand how jobs are created in America."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
Watch the video player above as President Barack Obama speaks with ABC 6/FOX 28 Political Reporter Dana Jay during an appearance in Cincinnati.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden returns to Ohio on Thursday with a labor union visit in Columbus.
President Barack Obama's campaign says Biden will highlight his administration's support for the auto industry and the increase in Ohio manufacturing jobs. He will be at the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local on Thursday afternoon.
Biden's trip to the swing state will come three days after the president held a town hall in Cincinnati.
The pace of campaigning by the two sides in Ohio has been picking up in recent weeks. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has a town hall Wednesday in Bowling Green. Meanwhile, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will promote Romney in southwest Ohio, starting with a stop at a Hamilton metals plant.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pressing an election-year point, Republicans pushed yet another bill through the House on Wednesday to repeal the nation's two-year-old health care law, a maneuver that forced Democrats to choose between President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement and a public that is persistently skeptical of its value.
The vote was 244-185, with five Democrats defectors siding with Republicans.
By Republican count, the vote marked the 33rd time in 18 months that the tea party-infused GOP majority has tried to eliminate, defund or otherwise scale back the program - opponents scornfully call it "Obamacare" - since the GOP took control of the House.
Repeal this year by Congress is doomed, since the Democratic-controlled Senate will never agree.
But Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam said before joining other Republicans in Wednesday's House vote: "Here's the good news. The voters get the last word in November. Stay tuned."
Nor was the vote in the House the only act of political theater during the day as campaign concerns increasingly crowded out bipartisan attempts at law-making in the Capitol.
One day after a campaigning Obama called on Congress to pass his proposal to extend tax cuts on all but the highest wage earners, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky offered to allow an immediate vote. "I can't see why Democrats wouldn't want to give him the chance" to sign the bill, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., countered by blocking an immediate vote. "We'll get to the tax issues. That way we'll be able to talk in more detail about Governor Romney's taxes," he said in a reference to Democratic campaign attacks on the GOP presidential candidate's overseas investment, the relatively low rate of income tax he is required to pay and his refusal thus far to release personal tax returns dating before 2010.
The health care debate roiled the campaign for the White House as well as Congress.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney drew boos from his largely black audience at the NAACP convention when he vowed to wipe out Obama's overhaul.
In the House, Republicans assailed the law as a job-killing threat to the economic recovery, but Democrats said repeal would eliminate consumer protections that already have affected millions.
"The intent of the president's health care law was to lower costs and to help create jobs. ... Instead, it is making our economy worse, driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. He cited a study by a business group that estimated that one of the bill's taxes would cost up to 249,000 jobs, and a different estimate that a second tax would "put as many as 47,100 in jeopardy."
But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said repeal would take away provisions that guarantee coverage for children with pre-existing medical conditions, reduce prescription drug costs for some seniors, provide for protective checks for patients of all ages and ensure rebates totaling more than $1 billion this summer for policy holders.
"What a Valentine to the health insurance industry," Pelosi said scornfully of the repeal measure. The party leader was a driving force behind the overhaul when she was speaker and Democrats held a majority.
At its core, the law will require nearly all Americans to purchase insurance beginning in 2014, a so-called individual mandate that Republicans seized on to make their case that the program amounted to a government takeover of health care. The law's constitutionality was upheld two weeks ago in a 5-4 Supreme Court opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
There was never any doubt that Republicans had the votes to pass the repeal in the House on Wednesday - or that it would die in the Senate, where Democrats possessed more than enough strength to block it.
That's what happened in January 2011, when the newly installed Republican majority first voted to repeal the law a few days after taking office.
In the months since, the GOP has taken repeated further swipes at the law, including votes to deny salaries to any government officials who enforce it, to abolish a board of officials charged with holding down Medicare costs in the future and to repeal a tax on medical devices.
With the exception of a few relatively modest changes accepted by the White House, all the rest have died in the Senate.
Some Democrats sought something of a middle ground.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., elected to his seat a few weeks ago, said the GOP-inspired repeal legislation was a charade and showed the House "cares more about political grandstanding than in getting things done." At the same time, he said, "We must work to improve the legislation," a bow to those who are less than enthusiastic about it, and a point he made during his recent campaign.
The five Democrats who sided with Republicans in the house vote were Reps. Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike Ross of Arkansas and Dan Boren of Oklahoma.
All five voted against the law's passage in 2010. Boren, Ross and McIntyre voted to repeal the law in January 2011, while the other two lawmakers voted to keep it in place.
In a statement issued after the vote, Matheson said, "We must scrap this flawed effort once and for all, start over, and do it right." Kissell's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Boehner said Republicans wanted to give Democrats who had previously voted to sustain the law a chance to reconsider, contending that "most Americans not only oppose this health care law - they support fully repealing it."
In a statement issued moments after the vote, McConnell said he would press for a vote in the Senate, as well.
Public reaction to the law has been consistently negative, but apart from conservative Republicans, it is less clear what support exists for repeal.
In a Washington Post/ABC News poll this month, 47 percent of those surveyed said they opposed the law, 47 percent said they supported it and 6 percent expressed no opinion.
Among those who said they were opposed or had no opinion, 33 percent said they wanted it all repealed, 30 percent said they wanted parts repealed and 34 percent said they wanted to wait and see what happens without repeal.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
HOUSTON (AP) -- Unflinching before a skeptical NAACP crowd, Mitt Romney declared Wednesday he'd do more for African-Americans than Barack Obama, the nation's first black president. He drew jeers when he lambasted the Democrat's policies.
"If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him," Romney told the group's annual convention. Pausing as some in the crowd heckled, he added, "You take a look!"
"For real?" yelled someone in the crowd.
The reception was occasionally rocky though generally polite as the Republican presidential candidate sought to woo a Democratic bloc that voted heavily for Obama four years ago and is certain to do so again. Romney was booed when he vowed to repeal "Obamacare" - the Democrat's signature health care measure - and the crowd interrupted him when he accused Obama of failing to spark a more robust economic recovery.
"I know the president has said he will do those things. But he has not. He cannot. He will not," Romney said as the crowd's murmurs turned to groans.
At other points, Romney earned scattered clapping for his promises to create jobs and improve education. In an interview with Fox News after the speech, Romney said he had expected the negative reaction to some of his comments. "I am going to give the same message to the NAACP that I give across the country which is that Obamacare is killing jobs," he said.
Four months before the election, Romney's appearance at the NAACP convention was a direct, aggressive appeal for support from across the political spectrum in what polls show is a close contest. Romney doesn't expect to win a majority of black voters - 95 percent backed Obama in 2008 - but he's trying to show independent and swing voters that he's willing to reach out to diverse audiences, while demonstrating that his campaign and the Republican Party he leads are inclusive.
The stakes are high. Romney's chances in battleground states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania - which have huge numbers of blacks who helped Obama win four years ago - will improve if he can cut into the president's advantage by persuading black voters to support him or if they stay home on Election Day.
As for Romney's contention that his policies would help "families of any color" more than Obama's, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president has pursued ideas that help support and expand the middle class after a devastating recession, and that as part of that black Americans and other minorities have benefited.
Obama spoke to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during the 2008 campaign, as did his Republican opponent that year, Sen. John McCain. The president has dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to address the group on Thursday. Obama is scheduled to address the National Urban League later this month.
For the past year, Romney's campaign has sought to avoid any overt discussion of race. When the issue has popped up, as with talk in Republican circles about running ads about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's controversial former pastor, Romney's team has worked to quickly distance him from the topic. The campaign is mindful both of the sensitivities of Romney being a white man looking to unseat the nation's first black president and of Romney's Mormon church's complicated racial history, having barred men of African descent from the priesthood until 1978.
But on Wednesday, Romney confronted race head-on, with a bold assertion that he'd be a better president for the black community than one of their own.
Within minutes of taking the stage, Romney made note of his opponent's historic election achievement - and then accused him of not doing enough to help African-American families on everything from family policy to education to health care.
"If you understood who I truly am in my heart, and if it were possible to fully communicate what I believe is in the real, enduring best interest of African-American families, you would vote for me for president," Romney said to murmuring from the crowd.
Romney added: "I want you to know that if I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of color - and families of any color - more than the policies and leadership of President Obama, I would not be running for president."
It wasn't long after that the murmurs turned to boos when Romney pledged to repeal Obama's health care overhaul.
"I am going to eliminate every non-essential, expensive program that I can find - and that includes Obamacare," Romney said, standing motionless as the crowd jeered for 15 seconds. He then noted a survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as support for his position, and was greeted with silence.
Romney's criticism of Obama didn't set well with some in the audience.
"Dumb," said Bill Lucy, a member of the NAACP board.
William Braxton, a 59-year-old retiree from Maryland, added: "I thought he had a lot of nerve. That really took me by surprise, his attacking Obama that way."
And James Pinkett, a retired utility worker, said: "He must not know how much support there is in the African-American community for health care, and he comes in and calls it Obamacare. ... We just think it should be given a chance to work."
While more Americans oppose the law than support it, blacks are a notable exception. More African-Americans say in polls that they strongly support the law than strongly oppose it.
In his speech, Romney also said much more must be done to improve education in the nation's cities, and he vowed to help put blacks back to work. Citing June labor reports, he noted that the 14.4 percent unemployment rate among blacks is much higher than the 8.2 percent national average. Blacks also tend to be unemployed longer, and black families have a lower median income, Romney said.
Looking to heal wounds on civil rights, Romney said, "The Republican Party's record, by the measures you rightly apply, is not perfect." He added: "Any party that claims a perfect record doesn't know history the way you know it."
He also highlighted his personal connection to civil rights issues. His father, George Romney, spoke out against segregation in the 1960s and, as governor of Michigan, toured the state's inner cities as race riots wracked Detroit and other urban areas across the country. The elder Romney went on to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he pushed for housing reforms to help blacks.
Romney worked to connect with the crowd with religious references, noting the hymns that were played before he was introduced and telling the group that his father was "a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God."
Left unsaid: any comments on a series of contentious new voter ID laws that critics say are aimed at making it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote. At the NAACP convention a day earlier, Attorney General Eric Holder labeled those laws as "poll taxes" - a reference to the fees used in some Southern states after the abolition of slavery to disenfranchise black people.
Romney expressed support for such laws during a late April visit to Pennsylvania, which now has one of the toughest voter identification statutes in the nation. "We ought to have voter identification so we know who's voting and we have a record of that," Romney said then.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama, eager to shift election-year attention away from the nation's lackluster jobs market, called on Congress Monday to extend tax cuts for only low and middle income earners while allowing taxes to increase for families that make more than $250,000 a year.
"Let's not hold the vast majority of Americans and our economy hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the wealthy," said Obama, flanked by a dozen people the White House said would benefit from the middle class-oriented tax cut extension.
Obama called for a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. He said the outcome of his November election contest with Republican rival Mitt Romney would then determine the fate of the tax cuts for higher income earners.
"My opponent will fight to keep them in place. I will fight to end them," he said.
The full George W. Bush era tax cuts are due to expire at the end of the year unless Congress acts.
Obama has long supported expiration of the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. But the White House and the president's re-election team are reviving his arguments now as a way to paint congressional Republicans as obstructionists and Romney as a protector of the wealthy, suggesting the GOP push for an across-the-board extension of the tax cuts puts the middle class at risk.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul.
The decision means the huge overhaul, still only partly in effect, will proceed and pick up momentum over the next several years, affecting the way that countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care. The ruling also hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in requiring most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
Breaking with the court's other conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans.
The justices rejected two of the administration's three arguments in support of the insurance requirement. But the court said the mandate can be construed as a tax. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," Roberts said.
The court found problems with the law's expansion of Medicaid, but even there said the expansion could proceed as long as the federal government does not threaten to withhold states' entire Medicaid allotment if they don't take part in the law's extension.
The court's four liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, joined Roberts in the outcome.
Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
"The act before us here exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying non-consenting states all Medicaid funding," the dissenters said in a joint statement.
Republican campaign strategists said presidential candidate Mitt Romney will use the court's ruling to continue campaigning against "Obamacare" and attacking the president's signature health care program as a tax increase.
"Obama might have his law, but the GOP has a cause," said veteran campaign adviser Terry Holt. "This promises to galvanize Republican support around a repeal of what could well be called the largest tax increase in American history."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- When it comes to the economy, half of Americans in a new poll say it won't matter much whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins - even though the presidential candidates have staked their chances on which would be better at fixing the economic mess.
People are especially pessimistic about the future president's influence over jobs, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll. Asked how much impact the November winner will have on unemployment, 6 in 10 gave answers ranging from slim to none.
Yet the candidates, the polls and the pundits agree - the economy is the issue of 2012. Can either man convince voters that he would set things right?
James Gray of Snow Hill, N.C., is skeptical.
"It doesn't look to me like the economy or nothing gets better no matter who you've got up there," Gray said. "I don't know why it is."
A retired policeman, Gray plans to vote for Romney and thinks the Republican might win. But he doesn't have much hope that would improve things for people like him, living on a fixed income. "Every time you go to the grocery store the prices have gone up," he said.
Years of disappointing economic news following the 2007-2009 recession have deflated American optimism. And worries about financial troubles in Europe and congressional gridlock at home hang over the future. Two-thirds of people still describe the economy as poor. The same number - 31 percent - think unemployment will grow worse over the next year as predict it will ease up.
"Right now it's so bad," said Maria Fisher of Timber Pines, Fla. "I wish everything was better."
Fisher, a preschool teacher at the YMCA, favors Romney because he's a Republican and a successful businessman. She's ready "to give him the chance to fix all these problems." But she doubts there's much the president can do.
Lots of Obama supporters feel the same way.
"The office of the president as a single person doesn't have as much influence as we generally attribute to them," said Jeff Guertin, a mechanical engineer in Bedford, N.H., who backs Obama.
Guertin said a president is limited by Congress' willingness to go along with his ideas, as well as all sorts of other factors, including world events, that affect whether the U.S. economy grows or shrinks.
Despite the dominance of economic issues in the presidential race, Americans are evenly split over whether the man living in the White House in 2013 will bring significant change to the overall economy.
A majority of those surveyed - 55 percent - say the winner will have from "just some impact" to "no impact" on the nation's huge budget deficits.
Those with little confidence that the winner can fix things are also more pessimistic overall - just 32 percent of them think the economy will improve in the coming year. In contrast, among those who expect a substantial impact from the winner, almost half think the economy will get better.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to predict that the winner's imprint will be felt: 58 percent say the election's outcome will affect the economy overall. Yet fewer than half of Republicans foresee much impact on joblessness.
Everett Hickman, an Obama supporter, said both campaigns overplay how much a president can do.
"The federal government has some influence over the economy," said Hickman, a retired radio news reporter living in Charlotte, N.C. "It doesn't have the kind of push-pull, click-clack control that some people seem to think, or pretend to think."
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14-18 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration will stop deporting and
begin granting work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to
the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The
election-year initiative addresses a top priority of an influential
Latino electorate that has been vocal in its opposition to
administration deportation policies.
The policy change, announced Friday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It also bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the so-called DREAM Act, a long-sought but never enacted plan to establish a path toward citizenship for young people who came to the United States illegally but who have attended college or served in the military.
The extraordinary step comes one week before President Barack Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' annual conference in Orlando, Fla. Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak to the group on Thursday.
Obama plans to discuss the new policy Friday afternoon from the White House Rose Garden.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.
The policy will not lead toward citizenship but will remove the threat of deportation and grant the ability to work legally, leaving eligible immigrants able to remain in the United States for extended periods. It tracks closely to a proposal offered by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as an alternative to the DREAM Act.
"Many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways," Napolitano wrote in a memorandum describing the administration's action. "Prosecutorial discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here."
The move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration's aggressive deportation policy. Activists opposing his deportation policies last week mounted a hunger strike at an Obama campaign office in Denver, and other protests were planned for this weekend.
The change is likely to cause an outcry from congressional Republicans, who are sure to perceive Obama's actions as an end run around them. Republicans already have complained that previous administration uses of prosecutorial discretion in deportations amount to back-door amnesty. Romney and many Republican lawmakers want tighter border security measures before considering changes in immigration law. Romney opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but has said he would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found Obama leading Romney among Hispanic voters 61 percent to 27 percent. But his administration's deportation policies have come under fire, and Latino leaders have raised the subject in private meetings with the president. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported a record 396,906 people and is expected to deport about 400,000 this year.
A December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 59 percent of Latinos disapproved of the president's handling of deportations.
The administration announcement comes ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision on Arizona's tough 2010 immigration law that, among other things, requires police to ask for immigration papers from anyone they stop or arrest and suspect is in the country illegally. The Obama administration has challenged the law.
The change also comes a year after the administration announced plans to focus on deporting serious criminals, immigrants who pose threats to public safety and national security, and serious immigration law violators.
One of the officials said the latest policy change is just another step in the administration's evolving approach to immigration.
Under the plan, immigrants whose deportation cases are pending in immigration court will have to prove their eligibility for a reprieve to ICE, which will begin dealing with such cases in 60 days. Any immigrant who already has a deportation order and those who never have been encountered by immigration authorities will deal with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The exact details of how the program will work, including how much immigrants will have to pay to apply and what proof they will need, still are being worked out.
In making it harder to deport, the Obama administration is in essence employing the same eligibility requirements spelled out in the proposed DREAM Act.
The administration officials stopped short of calling the change an administrative DREAM Act - the name is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors - but the qualifications meet those laid out in a 2010 version that failed in the Senate after passing in the House. They said the DREAM Act, in some form, and comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system remained an administration priority.
Illegal immigrant children won't be eligible to apply for the deportation waiver until they turn 16, but the officials said younger children won't be deported, either.
Last year, Napolitano announced plans to review about 300,000 pending deportation cases and indefinitely suspend those that didn't meet department priorities.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney has won more than 100 delegates while clinching the Republican nomination for president.
The former Massachusetts governor claimed 105 of the 152 delegates at stake in the Texas primary Tuesday, pushing him well past the number needed to win the nomination to take on President Barack Obama.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who stopped campaigning in primaries but is still accumulating delegates, won 18. The rest were sprinkled among candidates who dropped out of the race weeks or even months ago.
Texas awarded delegates in proportion to the statewide vote. Candidates could win a delegate with as little as 0.4 percent of the vote.
Romney has 1,191 delegates. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination at the party's national convention in August.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mitt Romney is set to clinch the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday night with a win in the Texas primary, a triumph of endurance for a candidate who came up short four years ago and had to fight hard this year as voters flirted with a carousel of GOP rivals.
According to the Associated Press count, Romney was sure to pass the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination on Tuesday unless he flopped badly in the Texas contest, an unlikely scenario with no one else campaigning.
The former Massachusetts governor has reached the nomination milestone with a steady message of concern about the U.S. economy, a campaign organization that dwarfed those of his GOP foes and a fundraising operation second only to that of his Democratic opponent in the general election, President Barack Obama.
"That goal is accomplished, but there's a much bigger goal to be accomplished and that's winning the presidency," said Rich Beeson, Romney's political director. "So while you can take a certain amount of satisfaction and pride for (Romney) and what he's accomplished, he's very resolved to say, `Our work isn't done.'"
Romney must now fire up conservatives who still doubt him while persuading swing voters that he can do a better job fixing the nation's struggling economy than Obama. In Obama, he will face a well-funded candidate with a proven campaign team in an election that will be heavily influenced by the economy.
"It's these economic indicators that will more or less trump any good or bad that Romney potentially got out of primary season," said Josh Putnam, an assistant political science professor at Davidson College who writes the political blog Frontloading HQ.
Romney opened his day in Colorado's coal country, where he spoke directly to small town America: "I'm not going to forget Craig, Colorado. I'm not going to forget communities like this across the country that are hurting right now under this president," he said. Local officials report that the area's economy is improving, but Romney said the recovery is too slow.
The Colorado event was the first stop in a Tuesday swing that ends at a Las Vegas fundraiser with Donald Trump, who has been renewing discredited suggestions that Obama wasn't born in the United States. The Obama campaign released a video Tuesday criticizing Romney's unwillingness to stand up to Trump and the more extreme elements in his party. Romney says he believes Obama was born in America but has yet to condemn Trump's repeated insinuations to the contrary.
"Mitt Romney's continued embrace of Donald Trump and refusal to condemn his disgraceful conspiracy theories demonstrates his complete lack of moral leadership," Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a statement. "If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump because he's so concerned about lining his campaign's pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?"
Asked Monday about Trump's contentions, Romney said, "I don't agree with all the people who support me. And my guess is they don't all agree with everything I believe in." He added, "But I need to get 50.1 percent or more. And I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."
Republicans won't officially nominate Romney until late August at the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla. He enters the Texas primary with 1,086 convention delegates - 58 shy of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination.
Texas has 152 delegates at stake and they are awarded in proportion to the statewide vote. That means Romney has to get at least 38 percent of the vote there to go over the top. In recent primaries in Kentucky, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oregon, he has done no worse than 67 percent.
Texas Republicans also will vote in a Senate primary to choose a candidate to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is facing state Solicitor General Ted Cruz and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff in July. The nominee will be strongly favored to win in November in heavily Republican Texas.
Romney, 65, is clinching the presidential nomination later in the calendar than any recent Republican candidate - but not quite as late as Obama in 2008. Obama clinched the Democratic nomination on June 3, 2008, at the end of an epic primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Four years ago, John McCain reached the threshold on March 4, after Romney had dropped out of the race about a month earlier.
This year's primary fight was extended by a back-loaded primary calendar, new GOP rules that generally awarded fewer delegates for winning a state and a Republican electorate that built up several other candidates before settling on Romney.
Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Trump - all of them sat atop the Republican field at some point. But Romney outlasted them all, even as some GOP voters and tea party backers questioned his conservative credentials.
The primary race started in January with Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, narrowly edging Romney in the Iowa caucuses. Romney rebounded with a big win in New Hampshire before Gingrich, the former House speaker, won South Carolina.
Romney responded with a barrage of negative ads against Gingrich in Florida and got a much-needed 14-point win. Romney's opponents fought back: Gingrich called him a liar, and Santorum said Romney was "the worst Republican in the country" to run against Obama.
Gingrich and Santorum assailed Romney's work at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded, saying the firm sometimes made millions at the expense of workers and jobs. It is a line of attack that Obama has promised to carry all the way to November.
On Feb. 7 Santorum swept all three contests in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota, raising questions about Romney's status as the front-runner. After a 17-day break in the voting, Romney responded with wins in Arizona, Michigan and Washington state before essentially locking up the nomination on March 6, this year's version of Super Tuesday.
Romney has been in general-election mode for weeks, raising money and focusing on Obama, largely ignoring the primaries since his competitors dropped out or stopped campaigning. Santorum suspended his campaign April 10, and Gingrich left the race a few weeks later.
Both initially offered tepid endorsements of Romney, but on Sunday Gingrich gave a full-throated defense of Romney's campaign, saying on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he was "totally committed to Romney's election."
Texas Rep. Ron Paul said on May 14 he would no longer compete in primaries, though his supporters are still working to gain national delegates at state conventions.
Rich Galen, a Republican strategist who has been unaligned in the 2012 race, said the long, sometimes nasty primary fight should help Romney fine-tune his campaign organization so it can operate effectively in the general election. Galen doesn't, however, think it was relevant in toughening up Romney for the battle against Obama.
"Romney's been running for president for six years. He is as good a candidate as he's ever going to be," Galen said. "Whatever you say about him, he was better than everybody else in the race."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is keeping up its effort to paint Mitt Romney as a job-destroying corporate raider at Bain Capital.
In a video being released Monday, Obama's campaign zeroes in on a Marion, Ind., company, American Pad & Paper, also known as Ampad. The ad charges that Ampad bought and closed the SCM office products plant, immediately costing 250 workers their jobs.
The aim is to challenge Romney's arguments that he's more qualified than Obama to handle the country's shaky economy.
The ad says Romney and his partners multiplied their investment in the office products plant by 20 times while the company went on to lose some 1,500 jobs and went bankrupt by 2000.
Former Ampad worker Randy Johnson calls Romney's performance "just the opposite of Robin Hood."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is casting Mitt Romney as a greedy, job-killing corporate titan with little concern for the working class in a new, multi-pronged effort that seeks to undermine the central rationale for his Republican rival's candidacy: his business credentials.
At the center of the push - the president's most forceful attempt yet to sully Romney before the November election - is a biting new TV ad airing Monday that recounts through interviews with former workers the restructuring, and ultimate demise, of a Kansas City, Mo., steel mill under the Republican's private equity firm.
"They made as much money off of it as they could. And they closed it down," says Joe Soptic, a steelworker for 30 years. Jack Cobb, who also worked in the industry for three decades, adds: "It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us."
The ad, at the unusual length of 2 minutes, will run in five battleground states: Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado. The campaign declined to describe the size of the ad buy though it's in the middle of running a $25 million, month-long ad campaign in nine states. A longer version of the ad was being posted online Monday.
Romney campaign officials said they "welcome" any discussion about jobs. "Mitt Romney helped create more jobs in his private sector experience and more jobs as governor of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
The commercial will be coupled with a series of events Obama's campaign is holding this week in Florida, Missouri, Iowa, Nevada and North Carolina to highlight Romney's role at Bain Capital, a company he co-founded.
It's unclear whether Obama, himself, will criticize his Republican rival on the subject when the president appears at events in New York on Monday or whether he'll leave the skewering to campaign surrogates as he prepares to meet with foreign leaders during the G-8 and NATO summits later this week.
Also this week, Vice President Joe Biden holds two days of events in Ohio, where he's expected to discuss Romney's role as a corporate buyout specialist.
Romney previously had accused Obama of attacking free enterprise and called the criticism of his business background an attempt by Democrats to distract voters from the president's record.
Both candidates were entering a new week in the campaign seeking to shift the focus back to voters' No. 1 issue, the economy, from social issues that dominated after the president announced his support for gay marriage.
The two campaigns contend that in a nation where unemployment is hovering around 8 percent, voters will choose between Obama and Romney based on economic arguments. Obama is trying to convince voters to stick with him as he heralds an economic rebound, as sluggish as it is. Romney counters that Obama has had enough time, and only he - with his deep background in business - knows how to jumpstart the nation's job market.
Obama, hosting his first campaign rally earlier this month in Columbus, Ohio, gave a preview of the new line of attack, saying Romney had "drawn the wrong lessons" from his business experience at the helm of Bain.
"He doesn't seem to understand that maximizing profits by whatever means necessary - whether through layoffs or outsourcing or tax avoidance or union-busting - might not always be good for the average American or for the American economy," Obama said then.
Romney, a multimillionaire, left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games but maintained a financial interest in the company after departing. He has said that his firm had a strong overall track record, creating jobs in prominent companies like Staples and Sports Authority, while acknowledging that some companies Bain invested in were unsuccessful.
Obama's new ad, which reprises criticism leveled at Romney during the Republican primaries, focuses on one of those unsuccessful companies, GST Steel.
Bain was the majority shareholder in GST Steel beginning in 1993. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2001, a period in which the U.S. steel industry was roiled by a flood of cheap steel imports. About 750 workers lost their jobs, and were left without any health benefits and reduced pensions. The federal government was forced to infuse $44 million into the company's underfunded pension plan.
Bain received $12 million on its $8 million initial investment and at least $4.5 million in consulting fees, according to a January report by Reuters.
The commercial shows interviews with former workers at the Kansas City plant who said Bain's role led to job losses and slashed benefits. It intersperses their claims with clips of Romney promoting his business background and empathizing with the jobless during campaign events. There also are images of a closed factory, run-down buildings and a road sign that says "Dead End."
"Bain Capital walked away with a lot of money that they made off this plant. We view Mitt Romney as a job destroyer," said steel worker John Wiseman.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama's campaign, said Romney wants to "create the illusion that somehow his experience equips him to lead the economy but there's nothing about the record that would support that."
"His central premise is that he's an economic wizard who can really get this economy moving and if that's the only claim he is making for this office, that's a premise worth examining," Axelrod said.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Refocusing on the economy, President Barack Obama on Friday pushed Republicans to back housing policies the White House says would help shore up struggling homeowners and prevent foreclosures.
Against the backdrop of a middle-class neighborhood in economically hard-hit Nevada, Obama touted steps his administration has already taken to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. But the president said he needed help from lawmakers in order to expand the refinancing efforts.
"There are things that we can do right now to help create jobs, to help restore some of the financial security that so many families have lost," Obama said. "But I have to say that there are a few too many Republicans in Congress who don't seem to be as optimistic as we are."
With Nevada voters up for grabs in the November election, Obama also drew a contrast with Republican Mitt Romney's plan for the nation's struggling housing market. While never mentioning Romney by name, the president criticized his rival and others in GOP for saying the government should allow the housing market to "hit bottom and hope for the best."
Seeking to put a real face on the nation's housing woes, Obama met earlier Friday with Reno homeowners Paul and Val Keller. Obama said the couple had benefited from executive action he took that made it easier to refinance a mortgage and is now saving $240 a month.
"That's real money," Obama said during a kitchen table chat at the Keller home.
Administration officials said refinancing applications have increased nationwide by 50 percent since Obama made it easier to refinance. In Nevada, which ranks second in the nation in foreclosed homes, officials said refinancing applications were up by about 230 percent.
But Obama said his administration is limited in the action it can take on its own.
Earlier this year, he proposed legislation that would lower lending rates for millions of borrowers who have not been able to get out from under burdensome mortgages. Obama would pay for the estimated $5 billion to $10 billion cost with a fee on large banks. The plan faces an uphill fight in Congress. The White House says it would not insist on the bank fees as a means to finance the plan.
Obama's shift back to the economy ended a week dominated by his public embrace of gay marriage. He followed up his historic, yet politically risky, announcement with a day of West Coast fundraising, including a gala event at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney on Thursday night that raised nearly $15 million.
Obama won Nevada in his 2008 presidential election. But the economy presents new challenges as well as an opportunity for rival Romney.
Four years ago, Nevada was reeling from the recession, and Obama and union allies seized on the anxiety to mobilize voters and win the state. Today, the Nevada is still in dire straits and the economy belongs to the president.
Nevada's unemployment rate was 12 percent in March, the worst in the nation. As of last month, Nevada's foreclosure rate trailed only Arizona among states. And the Nevadans most affected by the state's poor economy are the very voters who rallied behind Obama four years ago.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans are growing more pessimistic about the economy and handling it remains President Barack Obama's weak spot and biggest challenge in his bid for a second term, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
And the gloomier outlook extends across party lines, including a steep decline in the share of Democrats who call the economy "good," down from 48 percent in February to just 31 percent now.
Almost two-thirds of Americans - 65 percent - disapprove of Obama's handling of gas prices, up from 58 percent in February. Nearly half, 44 percent, "strongly disapprove." And just 30 percent said they approve, down from 39 percent in February.
These findings come despite a steady decline in gas prices in recent weeks after a surge earlier in the year. The national average for a gallon of gasoline stood at $3.75, down from a 2012 peak of $3.94 on April 1.
U.S. presidents have limited ability to affect gas prices, which are determined in international markets. However, the party out of power always blames whoever is president at the time for high gas prices, as Republican Mitt Romney is doing now and as Democrat Obama did in 2008 when George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office.
Of all the issues covered by the poll, Obama's ratings on gas prices were his worst.
The public's views tilt negative on his handling of the overall economy, 52 percent disapprove while 46 percent disapprove. In February, Americans were about evenly divided on his handling of the issue.
The economy is the No. 1 issue in the presidential race, thanks to the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression and one of the shallowest-ever recoveries.
While the recession officially ended in summer 2009, unemployment remains stubbornly high, at 8.1 percent in April. Some 12.5 million Americans are out of work.
The increasing skepticism toward the recovery tracks a weakening overall economy as measured by the gross domestic product, and matches economic growth downgrades by many economic forecasters.
Against this background, the weak economy looms as a huge liability for Obama, and any drop in public confidence in his ability to deal with it can threaten his re-election prospects. Although Obama held broad advantages over Romney on handling social issues and protecting the country, when it came to the economy about the same percentage said they trust Romney to handle it as trust Obama.
Mindful of Obama's vulnerability, Romney focuses frequently on the economy, suggesting that his business background makes him the candidate who can create jobs. Like most Republicans, he blames Obama's policies for making the economy worse.
Obama acknowledges that times remain hard for many, but says conditions are slowly improving. He suggests the best chance for full recovery is if voters stick with him.
Heather Beckman, 29, of Lantana, Fla., is a Democrat who said she's undecided about her vote but leaned to Obama. She believes the president can put the economy back on track, but not by himself. "At some point, the Republicans and Democrats have to come together to turn the economy around. As well as the rest of the country."
However, Republican Roni Lovell, 68, of Edgewood, Wash., said Romney's the one to help the economy turn the corner. "He has helped some really big companies come out of their financial woes," said the retired school administrator. "Obama has proved he can't do it and it's time someone else gives it a try."
The poll shows that optimism on an economic recovery earlier this year has all but stalled. The share of Americans describing the economy as "good" dropped 10 points since February, to 20 percent. Two-thirds see the economy as "poor" and about one in seven say it's somewhere in between. And just 22 percent say the economy got better in the past month, down from 28 percent saying so in February.
Democrats remain more optimistic about the economy in the coming year than do independents and Republicans, but still, the percentage that is hopeful for improvement in the next year dipped 10 points since February.
Fewer than one in three expect their household's economic fortunes to improve in the coming year, down from 37 percent in February. Eighteen percent see their finances as worsening, up from 11 percent in February.
And 35 percent expect the unemployment rate, which has been inching down for months, to start going back up. Thirty percent thought that in February. Independents are closer to Republicans than Democrats on that issue, with only 18 percent of independents and Republicans optimistic that the jobless rate will improve, while 40 percent of Democrats expect it to.
For now, Obama remains popular. His approval rating stands at 53 percent. But a stalling recovery could cause it to slide.
The AP-GfK poll was conducted May 3-7 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's popularity among women, minorities and independents is giving him an early edge over his likely GOP rival, Mitt Romney, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
The Democratic president also earns strong marks on empathy, sincerity, likeability and social issues. But Americans are split over which candidate can best handle the economy, which might open pathways for Romney six months before the November election.
Half of registered voters say they would back Obama in November, while 42 percent favor Romney, the AP-GfK poll found. About a quarter of voters indicated they are persuadable, meaning they are undecided or could change their minds before Election Day.
Forty-one percent of voters say they are certain to vote for Obama, and 32 percent say they are locked in for Romney.
The nationwide poll of 1,004 adults comes as Romney is focusing heavily on fundraising after gaining endorsements from of all but one of his GOP rivals, and conservative voters are reminding politicians of their muscle. Republicans in Indiana on Tuesday ousted a six-term senator accused of being too friendly to Obama, and North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, however, Obama endorsed gay marriage, a sign that he is eager to fire up young and liberal voters even if it costs him some support in battleground states such as North Carolina, which he narrowly won in 2008.
In the AP-GfK poll, Americans give Obama an edge over Romney on numerous attributes, but handling the economy is a key exception. The public is divided over whether Obama or Romney would do a better job on the issue that strategists say will dominate the fall election. Forty-six percent prefer Obama on this topic, and 44 percent prefer Romney.
Romney, who oversaw the restructuring of several companies while at Bain Capital, says he understands the private sector better than Obama does. Democrats dispute the claim.
If the economic recovery continues to limp slowly, as it has in the past two months, Republicans say voters will become more open to Romney's campaign.
On other issues: Half of adults say Obama is the stronger leader, while 39 percent choose Romney; Obama is more trusted to handle taxes and social issues, and to protect the country.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has changed his stance on some important issues over the past 18 years, may need to shore up his image on questions of credibility and sincerity. More than half of adults say Obama is the one who more often says what he believes, while 31 percent choose Romney on that measure.
Morris Griffin, 76, a Democratic-leaning voter from Liberty, Miss., is among those who question Romney's consistency.
"He changes his mind every other day," said Griffin, a Marine veteran. "This is the guy that didn't want to save the automotive industry some time back, and now he says he's the one that had idea for saving it."
Still, Griffin said there is a 25 percent chance he will change his mind and not vote for Obama.
Obama's biggest advantages are among women and minorities. His biggest problem is with whites who lack college degrees.
Female voters favor the president by 54 percent to 39 percent. Men are evenly split, with 46 percent for each candidate. That's largely in line with the 2008 "gender gap" that helped Obama win the White House.
Romney draws the backing of half of all white voters, while Obama gets 43 percent. White voters with college degrees split 50 percent for Obama to 46 percent for Romney. Whites without college degrees break 53 percent for Romney to 38 percent for Obama.
The president continues to draw strong support from black voters; 90 percent favor him; only 5 percent back Romney.
Obama holds an edge among independent voters, an important but easily misunderstood group. Independents neither identify with nor lean toward the Democratic or Republican parties, but not all are swing voters. Some are strongly liberal or conservative, so they can be just as committed to a candidate as some partisans.
The AP-GfK poll found 42 percent of independents backing Obama, 30 percent backing Romney and about a quarter undecided. Fifty-five percent said they remain persuadable.
Marianne Noble, a retired teacher from Eveleth, Minn., is an independent voter who supports Obama. "I think he's a good president," she said. "He needs a little more time, four more years to fulfill his potential."
Noble, 83, said Romney "skirts around certain issues. He's not very committed to a certain stance."
But Rebecca Fabrizio, a Republican from Henderson, Ky., said she will gladly vote against Obama.
Romney "is not my favorite, but out of my choices, that would be the one," said Fabrizio, 49, a retired nurse with three grown children.
She said Obama "wants to be president of the united world. He wants to be so loved... king of the world." Romney, she said, "is more willing to listen to both sides of the story, get all the facts before he decides something."
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted May 3-7, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. The poll included interviews with 871 registered voters; results among that group have an error margin of plus or minus 4.2 points.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ending months of equivocation, President Barack Obama declared his support for gay marriage on Wednesday, an announcement fraught with history that also injects a potentially polarizing issue into the 2012 race for the White House.
"I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient," Obama said in an interview with ABC at the White House. He added that, "I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people the word `marriage' was something that invokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs and so forth."
Now, he said, "it is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married."
Obama's announcement cheered gay rights groups who have long urged him to support gay marriage. It also opened up a new area of disagreement with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who opposes gay marriage.
Polling suggests the nation is evenly divided on the issue.
Obama spoke about his support for gay marriage in deeply personal terms, saying his young daughters, Malia and Sasha, have friends whose parents are same-sex couples.
"Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated different," Obama said. "It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective."
Obama said his wife Michelle Obama was also involved in his decision and joins him in supporting gay marriage.
"In the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people," he said.
Acknowledging that his support for same-sex marriage may rankle religious conservatives, Obama said he thinks about his faith in part through the prism of the Golden Rule - treating others the way you would want to be treated.
"That's what we try to impart to our kids and that's what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I'll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I'll be as president," Obama said.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) -- President Barack Obama says the economy keeps creating jobs, but with many still out of work, "we've got to do more."
The April jobs report out Friday shows a second straight month of sluggish growth, with the economy adding 115,000 jobs, fewer than expected. The pace of job growth is down significantly from earlier this year.
Obama did not mention that. He focused instead on the overall numbers, saying business have created more than 1 million jobs in the past six months alone.
The president commented at a high school outside Washington, where he was promoting a bid to freeze interest rates on federal student loans.
The jobless rate was 8.1 percent last month, a drop from 8.2 percent in March as people stopped looking for work.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) -- Newt Gingrich, the colorful former House speaker and fiery partisan, formally exited the Republican presidential contest Wednesday and vowed to help Mitt Romney's bid to defeat President Barack Obama.
Ending a campaign that seesawed between implosion and frontrunner and back again, Gingrich threw his support to his one-time rival as expected and promised his supporters he would continue to push conservative ideas. Gingrich bowed out of the race more than $4 million in debt and his reputation perhaps damaged.
"Today, I am suspending the campaign. But suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship," Gingrich told a hotel ballroom in suburban Washington.
"We are now going to put down the role of candidate and candidate's spouse and take back the role of active citizens," he said, adding he would continue to promote conservative ideas on college campuses, as well as through newsletters and films.
He also urged conservatives to rally behind Romney as a better alternative than Obama.
"This is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history," Gingrich said.
Gingrich saw extremes during his campaign. His senior staff resigned en masse last summer when Gingrich seemed unwilling to undertake a traditional campaign schedule of person-to-person campaigning and fundraising. Instead, he leaned on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as a steady stream of broadcast interviews he seemed to relish.
It seemed to work for a while. Gingrich plodded along with a proudly nontraditional campaign and strong debate performances. The showings helped him win in South Carolina - one of only two states he would win - but were insufficient to stave off Romney's spending and organization in Florida. After Gingrich's stinging January loss there, the always high-spending campaign seemed to sputter along while amassing enormous debt.
The campaign ended February with $1.5 million in the red but continued spending as though donors were coming.
The campaign now owes more than $1 million to Moby Dick Airways, the air charter company he used to ferry himself and his wife around the country, mixing campaign rallies with stops at zoos and historical sites. The campaign also owes the Patriot Security Group almost $450,000 for security services.
A raft of advertising agencies, consulting firms, pollsters, attorneys and former aides litter the list of those he owes money. He owes his former campaign manager, Michael Krull, more than $27,000. Top spokesman R.C. Hammond, who joined Gingrich at his final campaign event, is owed almost $4,000.
The campaign also owes JC Watts Enterprises - run by the former Republican representative from Oklahoma - some $35,000 for outreach to religious conservatives. Watts, who served in the House with Gingrich, endorsed his bid and vouched for the thrice-married admitted adulterer among skeptical social conservatives.
Gingrich's campaign also owes members of the Gingrich family cash.
Gingrich himself is owed almost $272,000 and has already been reimbursed more than $514,000. His daughter is owed more than $6,000.
That's not to say the Gingriches didn't earn money along the way.
Gingrich Productions, which is run by wife Callista, was paid $67,000 last year. And Cushman Enterprises, run by his daughter Jackie Cushman, brought in more than $100,000 from the campaign.
As Gingrich was mulling an exit from the race, his aides were talking with Romney's campaign about how his one-time rival could help him retire the debt. Romney's team has offered to be helpful in that effort.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
NEW YORK (AP) -- Mitt Romney says President Barack Obama shouldn't use the killing of Osama bin Laden as fodder for negative campaigning.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee spoke to reporters after visiting a New York City fire house that lost 11 men in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. Romney was joined by Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor at the time.
Romney praised Obama for ordering the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan a year ago.
But he says Obama shouldn't use the anniversary to draw distinctions between the two presidential candidates and whether Romney would have given the same order as Obama.
Obama's advisers have pointed to past comments by Romney suggesting he would not have made bid Laden's killing a priority.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) — Offering riffs on Mick Jagger and reflections on race, President Barack Obama is capping a week devoted to courting young votes with a Rolling Stone magazine cover interview that segues from presidential musings on politics to foreign policy to pop culture.
Sounding an election-year theme, Obama tells the magazine that Mitt Romney can't disavow the conservative views he embraced as candidate during the Republican presidential primaries. At the same time, he acknowledges that he, too, is struggling against public skepticism because of the slow economic recovery.
The interview, conducted earlier this month by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, will appear in the issue of the magazine that hits newsstands Friday. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the interview ahead of publication.
For Obama, the magazine interview and its cover portrait come as he reaches out to young voters with a two-day tour of three college campuses in key election swing states and an appearance Tuesday night on NBC's "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
Obama in the interview avoided characterizing Romney as a flip-flopper, a common criticism Romney faced during the Republican primary contests, and instead tagged him as a candidate who willfully embraces the Republican Party's most conservative views.
"I don't think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, 'Everything I've said for the last six months, I didn't mean,'" Obama said. "I'm assuming that he meant it. When you're running for president, people are paying attention to what you're saying."
Obama's answer underscores an approach his advisers have been emphasizing lately, casting the race as one of sharp contrasts between two distinct candidates, parties and ideologies.
He said his own political burden is describing to Americans the progress that has occurred during his administration and how, if sustained, it could lead to economic security. "There's understandable skepticism," he said, "because things are still tough out there."
Discussing his relationship with the military, Obama said, in the clearest terms yet, that he had to rein in the Pentagon as he sought to close down the war in Iraq on schedule and re-focus the military effort in Afghanistan. He said that with the help of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he made it clear to the military brass that "I very much believe in civilian control of our military, and that military decisions are in service of strategies and broader conceptions of diplomacy that are made here in this White House."
"They know I care about them and I respect them, and I think they respect me and listen to what I say," he said. "They understand that I'm the commander in chief."
He said the operation to kill Osama bin Laden illustrated the "constructive relationship" he has developed with the Pentagon.
On Iraq, he said he had fulfilled his promise to end the war responsibly.
"It wasn't as fast as some people would have liked," he said. "It was probably faster than some folks in the Pentagon would have liked."
Reflecting on whether there had been a change in racial politics since he became president, Obama said he has never accepted the idea that his election represented a "post-racial period."
Still, he said, he often hears people remark about the importance to black children of having an African-American president and African-American first lady.
"That's hugely important," he added, "but you shouldn't also underestimate the fact that there are a whole bunch of little white girls and white boys all across the country who just take it for granted that there's an African-American president. That's the president they're growing up with, and that's changing attitudes."
No interview with Rolling Stone is complete without cultural touchstones.
Obama recalled watching singer Mick Jagger rehearse for his appearance during a February White House tribute to the blues and was impressed by the respect the Rolling Stones frontman displayed toward lesser-known and younger musicians. He said Jagger recalled the generosity he had experienced upon meeting blues greats like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King, and displayed "the sense of him wanting to do that same thing, that it all comes full circle."
As he often does, Obama said he is not a fan of television news, though he admitted to liking Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, whom he called "brilliant." ''It's amazing to me the degree to which he's able to cut through a bunch of the nonsense," the president said.
As for his own pop talents, Obama was matter-of-fact about his two acclaimed though abbreviated moments of public singing — once at the Apollo Theater in New York and the other at a blues tribute at the White House.
"I can sing," he said confidently. "I wasn't worried about being able to hit those notes."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wooing young voters, President Barack Obama is on a blitz to keep the cost of college loans from soaring for millions of students, taking his message to three states strategically important to his re-election bid. By taking on student debt, Obama is speaking to middle-class America and targeting an enormous burden that threatens the economic recovery.
Before Obama got his road trip under way, Republican opponent Mitt Romney found a way to steal some thunder from the president's campaign argument: He agreed with it.
The competitors are now on record for freezing the current interest rates on a popular federal loan for poorer and middle-class students. The issue is looming because the rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 without intervention by Congress, an expiration date chosen in 2007 when a Democratic Congress voted to chop the rate in half.
Obama is heading to campuses in the South, West and Midwest to sell his message to colleges audiences bound to support it. As he pressures Republicans in Congress to act, he will also be trying to energize the young people essential to his campaign - those who voted for him last time and the many more who have turned voting age since then.
The president speaks Tuesday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Colorado at Boulder, and then the University of Iowa on Wednesday. All three universities are in states that Obama carried in 2008, and all three states are considered among the several that could swing to Obama or Romney and help decide a close 2012 election.
Both campaigns are fighting for the support of voters buried in college debt. The national debt amassed on student loans is higher than that for credit cards or auto loans.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has estimated about 15 percent of Americans, or 37 million people, have outstanding student loan debt. The banks put the total at $870 billion, though other estimates have reached $1 trillion. About two-thirds of student loan debt is held by people under 30.
Obama, previewing the message he will give at all three colleges, said over the weekend that allowing the interest rates to double this summer would hurt more than 7 million students. The White House said it would cost students $1,000, based on the average amount borrowed a year ($4,200) and the average time it takes to pay the loan (12 years).
"That would be a tremendous blow," Obama said. "And it's completely preventable."
Romney agreed with that conclusion even in the midst of blasting Obama's economic leadership. "Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the low rate," Romney said in a statement.
Obama and Romney are championing what amounts to a one-year, election-year fix at a cost of roughly $6 billion. Congress seems headed that way. Members of both parties are assessing ways to cover the costs and win the votes in the House and Senate, which is far from a political certainty. All parties involved have political incentive to keep the rates as they are.
Obama carried voters between the ages of 18-29 by a margin of about 2-to-1 in 2008, but many recent college graduates have faced high levels of unemployment. That raises concerns for the president about whether they will vote and volunteer for him in such large numbers again.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) -- Mitt Romney is all but certain to sweep Tuesday's five presidential primaries, marking a nearly definitive end to the Republican nomination process.
Voters in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were heading to the polls but Romney won't be in any of those states Tuesday night. Instead, he'll return to New Hampshire, where a sweeping primary victory in January set him down the path to the GOP presidential nomination.
From the Radisson Hotel downtown, Romney planned a speech he's titled "A Better America Begins Tonight." The general election speech, aides say, will represent a definitive pivot away from the primary contest and toward Democratic President Barack Obama and the general election.
Romney has been the party's presumptive nominee since his closest rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, dropped out of the race earlier this month.
The former Massachusetts governor has turned toward the center in recent days, beginning the process of appealing to independent voters in the wake of a brutal primary contest.
Romney was drawn to the right on issues like immigration as he fought off challenges from other Republicans. On Monday, he signaled he was considering a wider range of immigration policies, including a proposal from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would allow some young people a chance at visas to stay in the U.S.
Romney also embraced a temporary extension of lower interest rates for student loans, a policy opposed by House Republicans but backed by Obama.
Romney announced his support for that proposal as he campaigned in Pennsylvania a day before its GOP primary. While Pennsylvania is a battleground state in the fall, his campaign visits Sunday and Monday were largely scheduled before Santorum left the race and when the primary in Santorum's home state was still competitive.
There are a total of 209 delegates at stake Tuesday.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama pushed Congress Tuesday to give oil market regulators more muscle to deter price manipulation by speculators, the latest White House response to determined Republican attacks on administration energy policies amid high gas prices at the pump.
Obama wants Congress to strengthen federal supervision of oil markets, increase penalties for market manipulation and empower regulators to increase the amount of money energy traders are required to put behind their transactions.
"We can't afford a situation where some speculators can reap millions while millions of American families get the short end of the stick," Obama said at the White House.
The plan is more likely to draw sharp election-year distinctions with Republicans than have an immediate effect on prices at the pump. The measures seek to boost spending for Wall Street enforcement at a time when congressional Republicans are seeking to limit the reach of federal financial regulations.
The president's $52 million proposal comes as Republicans have been hammering Obama on his energy policies, recognizing the political cost of high gas prices on the president. Obama's plan would turn the tables on Republicans by taking aim at Wall Street's role in the oil price chain.
Obama was joined during his Rose Garden remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's proposal to impose a "Buffett rule" tax on the rich is generating enormous political wattage, but the plan itself would directly affect only a tiny fraction of Americans.
Only around 210,000 taxpayers - a bit over 1 of every 1,000 - would face higher federal taxes if the measure were enacted, according to an estimate by one respected bipartisan research group.
In addition, while Republicans say the plan would be a job killer, only a small proportion of businesses would potentially be subject to the tax, according to data from a 2011 Treasury Department study. These firms make disproportionately large amounts of money, but many of them don't employ any workers.
Republicans, calling the Buffett rule a political sideshow designed to distract voters from the economy's problems, seem certain to round up enough votes to block the bill when the Democratic-run Senate votes on it Monday. But Democrats are eager to hold repeated votes on it this election year to demonstrate that they favor economic equality while Republicans prefer coddling the wealthy, so it's unlikely to disappear soon.
Following are some questions and answers about the proposal and its potential impact:
Q: What would the Buffett rule do?
A: Citing complaints from billionaire Warren Buffett that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, Obama says everyone earning at $1 million a year or more should pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. He has been vague on details.
Monday's Senate vote will be on legislation by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who would impose the 30 percent tax on people making at least $2 million annually and phase it in gradually for those earning at least $1 million.
Q: Isn't the top income tax rate already 35 percent?
A: Yes, that is the rate owed this year on salaries over $388,350. Yet very few people pay that rate because they get to subtract credits and deductions. In addition, some sources of income like certain dividends and capital gains - more common among upscale earners - are taxed at a lower, 15 percent rate.
As a result, households making more than $1 million in 2011 owed an average of around 25 percent of their earnings in federal income taxes and payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, according to the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan group in Washington that studies federal taxes.
Q: How does that compare to lower earners?
A: On average - and that is the key - the rich pay higher rates. The center computes that families earning $30,000 to $40,000 owed an average 6 percent of it in income and payroll taxes last year. People making $50,000 to $75,000 owed an average 12 percent, while those making $75,000 to $100,000 paid an average 13 percent.
Q: Then what's the problem?
A: The White House says it's not the averages that bother them. It's that thousands of individual million-dollar earners pay lower rates than millions of middle-income workers.
Citing Internal Revenue Service data, the White House says 22,000 households making more than $1 million paid less than 15 percent of their earnings in federal income and payroll taxes. That includes 1,470 such families who paid nothing in federal income taxes.
Q: So where does Obama's 30 percent figure come from?
A: White House officials said last week that they want no household earning more than $1 million a year paying a smaller portion of its income in taxes than the middle class. While the term "middle class" is imprecise, IRS data show that the administration would come very close to that target by imposing a 30 percent tax on the highest earners. Out of around 27 million taxpayers who earned $50,000 to $100,000 in 2009, only around 2,000 ended up paying income tax rates of 30 percent or more.
Q: Overall, how many taxpayers would have to pay more if the Buffett rule becomes law?
A: The Tax Policy Center projects that there will be 438,000 households earning $1 million or more annually in 2015, the year they examined to give presidential candidates' tax plans time to be enacted and take effect. Of those taxpayers, the center expects around 210,000 to face higher taxes if legislation like the Senate Democratic bill becomes law. That is just over one-tenth of one percent of all 169 million taxpayers.
Q: What impact would the Buffett rule have on businesses?
A: The Buffett rule would apply to individual income tax rates. It would not apply to the taxes that corporations pay, although Obama has separately proposed to increase taxes on some corporations including some that do work abroad.
Yet the proposal would still affect thousands of companies, from the local bakery to hugely profitable law firms, whose owners pay individual income taxes on the earnings, not corporate taxes. Republicans say taxing these companies would snatch away money they could otherwise use to create jobs - a damaging move with the economy still laboring to recover from the recession.
Q: Are there many of these companies?
A: In a paper last August, Treasury researchers analyzing tax data found that around 35 million individual tax returns reported some business income but just 331,000 of them - about 1 percent - were for earners making $1 million and up.
Out of those 331,000 business taxpayers earning at least $1 million, just 200,000 were employers, the study found.
Those 200,000 high-income employers accounted for just 5 percent of all employers filing business earnings on their individual returns. But they reported $189 billion in business income - a disproportionately huge 50 percent of all business earnings reported by such employers.
Republicans say it would inhibit job creation to tax away those large firms' earnings. Democrats argue the figures show how few high-earning taxpayers actually hire people.
The Treasury figures were for the 2007 tax year, the most recent available.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Bowing to the inevitable, Rick Santorum quit the presidential campaign Tuesday, clearing the way for Mitt Romney to claim the Republican nomination.
Santorum, appearing with his wife and family in his home state of Pennsylvania, told supporters the race for him was over, but the fight to defeat President Barack Obama would go on.
Santorum made no mention of Romney, and stressed that he'd gone farther than anyone expected, competing "against all odds."
The delegate totals told the tale of Santorum's demise. Romney has more than twice as many delegates as Santorum and is on pace to reach the number needed to clinch the nomination - 1,144 - by early June. Still in the race, but not considered a factor: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- President Barack Obama is renewing his call for Congress to raise taxes on millionaires, traveling to Florida to make a populist, election-year pitch on an issue that draws a sharp contrast with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Obama is outlining his support for the so-called "Buffett rule" in Boca Raton, Fla., arguing that wealthy investors should not pay taxes at a lower rate than middle-class wage earners.
The push for the Buffett rule, named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, comes ahead of a Senate vote next week and as millions of Americans prepare to file their income tax returns. The plan has little chance of passing Congress, but Senate Democrats say the issue underscores the need for economic fairness.
Obama's team has made the Buffett rule a key part of its message, saying it shows clear differences with Romney, who has opposed the plan and withstood criticism from Democrats for paying about 15 percent in federal taxes for 2011 on income mostly derived from investments.
"Romney is a beneficiary of a broken tax system, and he wants to keep it that way," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Monday in a conference call with reporters.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Obama was the "first president in history to openly campaign for re-election on a platform of higher taxes." She said the plan would raise taxes on small businesses.
Republicans have noted that Obama's proposal would collect $47 billion through 2022, a small amount compared with the $7 trillion in federal budget deficits projected during that period.
Obama has proposed that people earning at least $1 million annually, whether in salary or investments, should pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. Many wealthy taxpayers earn investment income, which is taxed at 15 percent, allowing them to pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes. By contrast, the top rate for taxpayers with high incomes derived from wages is 35 percent.
The White House said in a report released ahead of Obama's speech that the tax proposal would restore fairness to the system, pointing to 22,000 households earning more than $1 million annually that paid less than 15 percent of their income in income taxes in 2009. Nearly 1,500 of those households paid no federal income taxes, the report said.
Obama economic adviser Jason Furman said the Buffett rule reflected the "most simple, common-sense element of any tax reform."
Obama was holding three fundraisers near West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The events were expected to raise at least $1.7 million.
The first was a closed reception at a private home in a gated community in Palm Beach Gardens where the tiled-roof houses were spacious and neighbors' driveways sported a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce.
Later, a large rally-style event in Hollywood, Fla., was to include a musical performance by singer John Legend.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
COLUMBUS -- New television ads run by President Obama's re-election campaign mark a new stage in the race for the White House.
"A president never calls anyone out unless he knows for sure that that's going to be his opponent," said Bob Clegg of Midwest Communications and Media, a firm that handles advertising for republicans.
Obama For America began running an ad titled "Remember" this week. It emphasizes the President's energy policy while explicitly attacking Mitt Romney.
"Mitt Romney stood with big oil," the voice over says.
The ad began running in six swing states, including Ohio, the day after Romney won primary contests in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
"The wins that Mitt Romney had were pretty solid wins and I think he's all but the for sure nominee for the Republican Party," Clegg said.
The Romney campaign is responding with a web video titled "Obama Energy Plan: Slinging Mud."
The voice over points out that Obama is running ads in states where gas prices have "roughly doubled" and attacks the President's cap and trade policy.
The Romney video ends with an appeal for campaign donations.
Even though Romney focused on the president, rather than fellow republicans, during his victory speech Tuesday, Clegg predicted political action committees will run ads against Obama in Ohio while the Romney campaign focuses on upcoming primaries.
Reporter: Dana Jay
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said Tuesday Republicans want to enforce a "radical vision" on the nation, accusing the opposition party of moving so far to the right that even one of its beloved figures, Ronald Reagan, could not win a Republican presidential primary today.
In a blistering election-year critique, Obama sought to present himself to voters as the protector of the middle class and the leader of a Democratic Party that is willing to compromise in Washington. He singled out the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, for criticism and more broadly said Republicans had shifted from any reasonable debate on health care, debt reduction and the environment.
Republicans "will brook no compromise," Obama told news executives at the annual meeting of The Associated Press.
He cited a Republican presidential debate late last year when the entire field rejected the prospect of $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases as a means to lower the debt.
"Think about that. Ronald Reagan, who as I recall was not accused of being a tax-and-spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficit started to get out of control that for him to make a deal he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases," Obama said. "He did it multiple times. He could not get through a Republican primary today."
Making his case for re-election, Obama said nation must restore a sense of security for hard-working Americans and stand for a government willing to help those in hard times. The Democratic president blasted Republicans by name and said the choice between the parties is "unambiguously clear."
Stirring anew the themes of his State of the Union speech, Obama said the central issue for the country is deciding whether it wants to give everyone a fair chance - with government as a tool to help do that - or whether it is content to let only the wealthy succeed.
Obama used his speech to paint his Republican rivals as protectors of a trickle-down economic philosophy that does not work. He spoke on the day that GOP presidential front-runner Romney was expected to move closer to seizing his party's nomination as voters went to the polls in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Obama directly challenged Romney for embracing a $3.5 trillion budget proposal led by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that was approved by the House last week. Ryan's proposal aims to slash the federal deficit and reduce the size of government. It stands little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, yet Obama targeted it as a symbol of the Republican vision.
The president said that instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress have "doubled down" and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the "Contract With America" look like the "New Deal."
The Contract with America was the policy document that helped Republicans win the House in 1994 and propelled Newt Gingrich into the speakership. The New Deal was President Franklin Roosevelt's plan for pulling the nation out of the Great Depression.
Yet Obama also sought to buffer himself from criticism that he is a supporter of big government.
Speaking to publishers and editors, Obama said: "I believe deeply that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history."
Obama went into a lengthy, point-by-point critique of the Ryan budget, showing what he said would be a perilous future for senior citizens, college students, people with disabilities and many other Americans. He condemned the GOP plan as a "prescription for decline."
"It's antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it, a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top but grows outward from the heart of the middle class," he said.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney urged Republicans to shift focus to the general election, giving a subtle push to rival Rick Santorum as voters headed to polls Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
"The right thing for us, I think, is to get a nominee as soon as we can and be able to focus on Barack Obama," Romney told Fox News in an interview. "You have to remember that it was Ross Perot that allowed Bill Clinton to win."
Perot ran as an independent in the 1992 general election, when Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush.
At the same time, Romney and President Barack Obama are trading jabs and acting as though the country's biggest political matchup of the year is all but set. Obama's re-election campaign is running a new TV ad in six swing states criticizing the former Massachusetts governor by name for the first time - in this case as a backer of "Big Oil" amid high gas prices.
While charging that Obama's version of a perfect world is one with "a big-spending, big government," Romney is behaving as though his three rivals for the nomination no longer matter.
"My campaign is going to continue focusing on Barack Obama," Romney said Tuesday.
Romney scheduled one campaign event Tuesday before an election night party in Milwaukee. He spent the weekend campaigning across Wisconsin in the company of Rep. Paul Ryan, working to win yet another big industrial state that rival Santorum was counting on to keep his flagging candidacy alive.
Santorum was spending the day in Texas at private fundraisers for his campaign before heading to his home state of Pennsylvania for an election night party in Mars, just north of Pittsburgh.
Romney has 572 delegates to the Republican National Convention, half the needed 1,144, and is on a pace to clinch the nomination by the end of the primary season in June. Santorum has 272 delegates, Newt Gingrich 135 and Ron Paul 51.
There were 95 delegates at stake in Tuesday's contests, including 42 in Wisconsin, the only one of the three contests Santorum has seriously contested. Romney is expected to do well in Maryland and in the District of Columbia, where Santorum is not on the ballot.
Romney has ignored Santorum the past few days to focus on Obama, telling supporters in Green Bay that the president "takes his political inspiration from the capitals of Europe."
Obama's ad claims that "Mitt Romney's stood with Big Oil - for their tax breaks, attacking higher mileage standards and renewables. It's in response to an ad from the American Energy Alliance blaming Obama for rising gas prices.
Romney's campaign, though, is running far behind the president in fundraising, as he's been unable to raise general election money because the primary contest is still going on.
At the end of February, Obama reported $84.7 million in his campaign account compared with Romney's $7.3 million. Obama has more than 530 paid staff compared to roughly 100 for Romney.
But Romney has far outspent his rivals during the nomination fight.
Santorum, who also campaigned in Wisconsin on Monday, said Romney has essentially bought his success by outspending the competition.
Romney and his allies have spent $53 million on television advertising so far this election cycle compared to $27 million from his three Republican competitors combined, according to data compiled by the media tracking firm SMG Delta.
Santorum's team, having narrowly lost a string of high-profile contests, spent just $9 million.
"With almost unlimited resources, Gov. Romney has not proven to be very effective," Santorum said as he predicted a possible upset in Wisconsin. "The only way he's been successful in winning the primaries is by just bludgeoning his opponents by an overwhelming money advantage - something he's not going to have in the general election."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is moving ahead with tough new sanctions aimed at squeezing Iran's oil exports after determining there is enough crude on world markets to take the step without harming U.S. allies.
Obama's move allows the U.S. to go forward with sanctions on foreign banks that continue to purchase oil from Iran. The sanctions aim to further isolate Iran's central bank, which processes nearly all of the Islamic Republic's oil purchases, from the global economy.
U.S. officials hope ratcheting up economic pressure will both push Iran to abandon its disputed nuclear program and convince Israel to give sanctions time to take hold before pursuing a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The U.S. and allies believe that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb; Iran denies that.
Under a sweeping defense bill Obama signed at the end of December, he had until Friday to determine if there was enough oil supply on the world market to allow countries to cut their oil purchases from Iran.
Obama announced his decision in a statement Friday after a source initially confirmed the news to The Associated Press.
The president said he based his determination on global economic conditions, the level of spare oil capacity and increased production by some countries, among other factors. He said he would keep monitoring the global market closely to ensure it can handle a reduction of oil purchases from Iran.
With oil prices already rising this year amid rising tensions over the nuclear dispute between Iran and the west, U.S. officials have sought assurances that pushing countries to stop buying from Iran would not cause a further spike in prices.
That's particularly important for Obama in an election year that has seen an increasing focus on gas prices.
The congressionally mandated sanctions target foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank - barring them from operating in the U.S. to buy or sell Iranian oil. The penalties are to take effect at the end of June, around the same time Europe's embargo on Iranian oil kicks in.
Countries can still avoid the sanctions if they take steps to significantly reduce their imports before then.
Domestic and foreign policy concerns have complicated the administration's decision to pursue the oil sanctions.
Many of the countries that buy oil from Iran are U.S. allies, including several European Union nations, Japan, South Korea and India. In order to provide flexibility to countries friendly to the U.S., the sanctions bill allows the U.S. to grant waivers to nations that significantly reduce their purchases of Iranian oil.
Even before Friday's decision, the State Department announced that it would grant waivers to 10 European Union countries and Japan because of steps they have already taken to cut back on Iranian oil. An E.U. oil embargo, approved in January, is set to take effect in July.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who co-authored the sanctions legislation with Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, said he welcomed Obama's support in targeting Iran's Central Bank. Menendez's office says he was also notified of the decision earlier Friday
"Today, we put on notice all nations that continue to import petroleum or petroleum products from Iran that they have three months to significantly reduce those purchases or risk the imposition of severe sanctions on their financial institutions," Menendez said in a statement.
He predicted most countries would cut their purchase of oil from Iran, either out of fear of sanctions, or a shared fear over the Iran's pursuit of nuclear weaponry.
The United States has not said what constitutes a significant reduction in Iranian oil purchases, and analysts believe the administration could use different metrics for different countries.
Administration officials say a February report from the Energy Information Administration shows there is excess oil supply on the global market. But the report also showed that prices are high.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court is signaling it could throw out some other key parts of President Barack Obama's health care law if it first finds the individual insurance requirement unconstitutional.
On the third and last day of arguments, the justices appeared to accept the administration's argument that at least two important insurance reforms are so closely tied to the insurance requirement that they could not survive without it.
Less clear was whether the court would conclude the entire law, with its hundreds of unrelated provisions, also would have to be cast aside.
The justices also are spending part of Wednesday considering a challenge by 26 states to the expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income Americans, an important feature toward the overall goal of extending health insurance to an additional 30 million people.
The first of the day's two sessions was unusual in that it assumed an answer to the central question in the historic health care case: that the requirement that Americans carry health insurance or pay a penalty will be struck down.
In their questions, liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer took issue with Paul Clement, the lawyer for 26 states seeking to have the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act tossed out in its entirety.
"What's wrong with leaving this in the hands of those who should be fixing this?" asked Sotomayor, referring to Congress.
Chief Justice John Roberts also spoke about parts of the law that "have nothing to do with any of the things we are" talking about.
For example, Ginsburg observed that the act deals with issues such as black lung disease.
"Why make Congress redo those?" she asked. "There are many things" that have "nothing to do with affordable health care."
But Clement said the court would be leaving "a hollow shell" if it decided to excise the several key provisions. "The rest of the law cannot stand," he contended.
Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy also asked hard questions of Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler that indicated they are at least considering Clement's arguments. Kneedler said that the only other provisions the court should kill in the event the mandate is stricken are revisions that require insurers to cover people regardless of existing medical problems and limit how much companies can charge in premiums based on a person's age or health.
Justice Antonin Scalia suggested many members of Congress might not have voted for the bill without the central provisions, and he said the court should not go through each and every page to sort out what stays and what goes.
"What happened to the Eighth Amendment?" Scalia asked, referring to the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. "You really expect us to go through 2,700 pages?"
As the arguments resumed Wednesday morning, a smaller group of demonstrators than on previous days gathered outside.
Supporters of the law held a morning news conference where speakers talked about the importance of Medicaid. And, marching on the sidewalk outside the court, supporters repeated chants they've used the past two days including "Ho, ho, hey, hey, Obamacare is here to stay." Most of their group departed not long after arguments began inside.
Opponents of the law, including Susan Clark of Santa Monica, Calif., also stood outside the court. Clark, who was wearing a three-cornered colonial-style hat, carried a sign that read "Obamacare a disaster in every way!"
"Freedom, yes. Obamacare, no," other opponents chanted.
The first two days of fast-paced and extended arguments have shown that the conservative justices have serious questions about Congress' authority to require virtually every American to carry insurance or pay a penalty.
The outcome of the case will affect nearly all Americans and the ruling, expected in June, also could play a role in the presidential election campaign. Obama and congressional Democrats pushed for the law's passage two years ago, while Republicans, including all the GOP presidential candidates, are strongly opposed.
But the topic the justices took up Wednesday only comes into play if they first find that the insurance mandate violates the Constitution.
The states and the small business group opposing the law say the insurance requirement is central to the whole undertaking and should take the rest of the law down with it.
The federal appeals court in Atlanta that struck down the insurance requirement said the rest of the law can remain in place, a position that will be argued by a private lawyer appointed by the justices, H. Bartow Farr III.
On Tuesday, the conservative justices sharply and repeatedly questioned the validity of the insurance mandate.
If the government can force people to buy health insurance, justices wanted to know, can it require people to buy burial insurance? Cellphones? Broccoli?
Audio for Tuesday's court argument can be found at: http://apne.ws/Hft6z3 .
The court focused on whether the mandate for Americans to have insurance "is a step beyond what our cases allow," in the words of Justice Kennedy.
"Purchase insurance in this case, something else in the next case," Chief Justice Roberts said.
But Kennedy, who is often the swing vote on cases that divide the justices along ideological lines, also said he recognized the magnitude of the nation's health care problems and seemed to suggest they would require a comprehensive solution.
And Roberts also spoke about the uniqueness of health care, which almost everyone uses at some point.
"Everybody is in this market, so that makes it very different than the market for cars or the other hypotheticals that you came up with, and all they're regulating is how you pay for it," Roberts said, paraphrasing the government's argument.
Kennedy and Roberts emerged as the apparent pivotal votes in the court's decision.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court is plunging into a three-day debate
on the Obama administration's overhaul of the nation's health care
system. In the opening minutes, the justices are asking pointed
questions about a legal issue that could derail the case.
Eight of nine justices fired two dozen questions in less than half hour at Washington attorney Robert Long. He was appointed by the justices to argue that the case has been brought prematurely because a law bars tax disputes from being heard in the courts before the taxes have been paid.
Under the new law, taxpayers who don't purchase health insurance will have to report that omission on tax returns for 2014 and will pay a penalty along with federal income tax. At issue is whether that penalty is a tax.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
CUSHING, Okla. (AP) -- President Barack Obama firmly defended his record on oil drilling Thursday, ordering the government to fast-track an Oklahoma pipeline while accusing Congress of playing politics with a larger Canada-to-Gulf Coast project.
Deep in Republican oil country, Obama said lawmakers refused to give his administration enough time review the controversial 1,170-mile Keystone XL pipeline in order to ensure that it wouldn't compromise the health and safety of people living in surrounding areas.
"Unfortunately, Congress decided they wanted their own timeline," Obama said. "Not the company, not the experts, but members of Congress who decided this might be a fun political issue decided to try to intervene and make it impossible for us to make an informed decision."
Facing fresh criticism from Republicans who blame him for gas prices near $4 a gallon, Obama announced Thursday that he was directing federal agencies to expedite the southern segment of the Keystone line. The 485-mile line will run from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on Texas' Gulf Coast that would remove a critical bottleneck in the country's oil transportation system. The directive would also apply to other pipelines that alleviate choke points.
"Anyone who says that we're somehow suppressing domestic oil production isn't paying attention," Obama said, speaking at the site of the new Oklahoma project.
Republicans said the moves were little more than a publicity stunt, arguing that it wouldn't help Canadian company TransCanada build the pipeline any sooner. Construction is expected to begin in June with completion next year.
"The American people can't afford more half-measures on energy from the president. No matter what he says, the reality is he killed the Keystone pipeline and the energy production and 20,000 jobs that went with it," said Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman.
Environmentalists were also critical. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council said Obama's move was "downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting" the Texas-to-Oklahoma line, "especially when the industry has a history of oil spills."
Obama's order urges speedy review of the Cushing project and directs federal agencies to incorporate previous environmental studies of the Keystone proposal that included the southern route.
The use of previous studies should help move the project forward more quickly than if a review of the project started from scratch, although it's unclear exactly how much time the expedited review will save.
Republicans call the president's actions a belated attempt to take credit for a project over which he has relatively little control. While federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department play a role in the approval process for the domestic portion of the pipeline, states have a more direct say in approving the route.
The full Keystone pipeline became a political flashpoint late last year when congressional Republicans wrote a provision forcing Obama to make a decision, and environmental groups waged a campaign to kill the project. Obama delayed the project in January.
Obama has been highlighting his energy agenda this week in Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and later Thursday in battleground Ohio, a trip that reflects the degree to which high gas prices have begun hitting consumers in their pocketbooks.
For Obama's advisers, rising gas prices pose a threat to his re-election bid because they could undermine the benefits of a payroll tax cut that he made the centerpiece of his jobs agenda last fall - Congress approved the tax cut extension in February - and throttle the economic recovery.
Republicans view rising gas prices as emblematic of Obama's energy record and hope to tag him with the blame even though no president has much control over prices at the pump. Gas prices have risen more than 50 cents a gallon since January in response to a standoff over Iran's nuclear program that has threatened to disrupt Middle East oil supplies.
GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, campaigning at a Harvey, La., company that services oil rigs, said Obama's administration should open more federal lands for leases to boost U.S. oil production and revenue for the federal government.
"Here's an opportunity for us in this country to do something about it: increasing jobs, lowering energy prices, decreasing the deficit, all of the things you would think the president of the United States would be for," Santorum said.
Mitt Romney, Santorum's chief rival for the Republican nomination, has labeled Obama's top energy advisers as the "gas hike trio," urging the president to fire three Cabinet secretaries because of the high prices.
Obama was ending the day with a stop in battleground Ohio, talking about automobile research and development at Ohio State University in Columbus. The president has cited his decision to raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon for new vehicles by 2025 as an important step in conserving oil and saving consumers at the gas pump.
Obama has repeatedly invoked his decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from collapse with billions in federal aid, a move that saved hundreds of thousands of auto assembly and supplier jobs in Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere. Romney opposed the bailout, and Obama's team intends to make it a stark contrast between the two candidates if the former Massachusetts governor wins the GOP nomination.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some takeaways from Tuesday's Republican presidential primary in Illinois:
ROMNEY STAYED ON TOP
Mitt Romney notched another victory in a big, industrial Midwestern state - and the front-runner did it by leveraging all of his advantages. He overwhelmed rival Rick Santorum with TV ads; he and his allies spent $3.5 million to $500,000, an advantage of 7-1 over Santorum. His superior organization made him eligible for all of the state's 54 delegates, while Santorum missed out on at least 10 because he didn't file the right paperwork. And Romney looked ahead to the general election, giving a victory speech squarely focused on Democratic President Barack Obama.
SANTORUM MADE MISTAKES
It's been a rough few days for the former Pennsylvania senator. On Tuesday, he was forced to distance himself from an earlier comment suggesting he didn't care about the country's unemployment rate. Over the weekend in Puerto Rico, he had to repeatedly explain his position on whether islanders would have to speak English if they want to become a U.S. state. And he had to answer questions about a fiery pastor who introduced him at a church service in Louisiana while suggesting that America is a Christian nation. Next up is Louisiana's primary Saturday, where Santorum will need a big win if he hopes to press forward.
THE GENERAL ELECTION HAS BEGUN
As Republicans in Obama's home state voted to choose the Democrat's general election opponent, Romney pledged to work across the partisan aisle - or "die trying." It was his most direct appeal yet to the independent voters who will decide the fall election. And it's a shift away from the red-meat rhetoric that appeals to the conservative GOP base. With the Illinois win, Romney further solidified his status as the likely Republican nominee. Santorum has fewer chances to derail him. While he'll still face challenges in some Southern states, Romney's win means his campaign is rolling along toward the eventual victory his advisers have predicted all along.
DELEGATE RACE CONTINUES
The Illinois primary helped Romney advance in what appears to be an inexorable march to the 1,144 delegates he'll need to secure the nomination at the Republican National Convention in August. He won at least 19 delegates in Illinois, with 35 of the total 54 still to be determined. Santorum lost out on 10 delegates because his team botched paperwork. The former Pennsylvania senator faces an uphill climb in the delegate race: Romney has 541 while Santorum had 253, according to the Associated Press tally. At his current pace, Romney will accumulate the delegates he needs to wrap up the nomination in June.
HIGH INCOME, EDUCATED VOTERS LIKE ROMNEY
Romney won in Illinois with support from people with more education and higher incomes - and from those whose top priority is defeating Obama in November. Romney doubled his margin over Santorum among voters with college degrees, according to early exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks. He won 20 percent of the vote among those who said electability - being able to win in November - was the most important consideration. But Romney was still weak among those who say they are "very conservative" - Santorum had a double-digit lead in that group.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Looking ahead to the Illinois primary and
beyond, an increasingly confident Mitt Romney conceded on Monday that
the economy is on the upswing but argued that President Barack Obama's
policies slowed the recovery.
Campaigning in Obama's home state, the Republican presidential candidate largely ignored his top GOP rival Rick Santorum - at least temporarily - and pivoted toward a prospective matchup against the Democratic president. Illinois voters have their say Tuesday in the GOP campaign's next big contest.
"There are dramatic differences between me and President Obama," Romney said during a morning campaign stop at Charlie Parker's diner in Springfield. "I'm not an economic lightweight. President Obama is."
Previewing what could be a general election argument, Romney acknowledged that the economy was moving in the right direction as hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created, the unemployment rate has dropped and consumer confidence has jumped. Romney suggested it was in spite of the president.
"The economy always comes back after a recession of course," said the former Massachusetts governor. "There's never been one that we didn't recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been."
Romney extended his delegate lead Sunday in Puerto Rico, where he trounced rival Rick Santorum and scored all 20 of the Caribbean island's delegates. Romney has collected more delegates than his opponents combined and is poised to win the delegate battle in Illinois, even if he loses the popular vote, thanks to missteps by Santorum's shoestring operation.
Romney's wife, Ann, declared Sunday night in suburban Illinois that the time has come for her husband's rivals to quit the race.
"We need to send a message that it's time to coalesce," she said, Mitt at her side. "It's time to get behind one candidate and get the job done so we can move on to the next challenge, bringing us one step closer to defeating Barack Obama."
Brushing aside skepticism from the party's right flank, Romney aides have been emphasizing their overwhelming mathematical advantage in the race to 1,144 delegates - the number needed to clinch the GOP presidential nomination and face President Barack Obama in the fall.
Santorum has all but conceded he cannot earn enough delegates to win, but claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Romney is a weak front-runner.
He said Monday that he'll "go out and compete in every state," calling Illinois a "two-person race."
"What I've said is, I think it's going to be very difficult as this goes on for anybody to get that magic number" to clinch the nomination, Santorum said in an interview on CBS's "This Morning."
Santorum called Romney a "big-government heavyweight," responding on MSNBC Monday to the former Massachusetts governor's recent assertion that he couldn't match up on economic expertise. Santorum told CBS he thinks the chances of a brokered GOP convention in August "are increasing."
In nationally broadcast remarks Sunday, Santorum sidestepped when asked if he would fight Romney on the convention floor if he failed before August to stop the former Massachusetts governor from getting the required number of delegates.
Romney aides privately likened the situation to the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who loses his arms and legs in battle with King Arthur but insists he has only a flesh wound. The Romney camp suggested that Tuesday's performance would extend Romney's delegate advantage, even if he loses the popular vote.
Santorum cannot win at least 10 of the state's 54 delegates because his campaign failed to file the paperwork.
One Romney aide recently said it would take "an act of God" for Santorum to earn enough delegates to prevail.
"Mitt's going to do well," said Romney's Illinois chairman Dan Rutherford, the state treasurer. "I think he will do better than the other three people. ... But my focus is on the delegates because that's really what the game is all about."
Polls suggest the Illinois race is close. And even at a Romney campaign stop Sunday, voters were divided.
"I'm leaning toward Santorum, but I wanted to hear him in person," said Nichole Warren, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom from nearby South Beloit. "I hear (Romney) talk and I hear a lot of Obama in him, and that scares me."
But Sid Haffenden, a 61-year-old retired toll-way worker, said, "Santorum has too much baggage." He added, "I want a businessman."
Santorum is not giving up. He will spend Monday and Tuesday courting Illinois voters. Santorum plans to host four rallies Monday.
At this rate, Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June unless Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is able to win decisively in the coming contests.
Both have said they would stay in the race and perhaps force the nomination to a fight at the GOP's convention in Tampa if Romney doesn't amass enough delegates to arrive with a mandate. That would turn the convention into an intra-party brawl for the first time since 1976.
Including Puerto Rico's results, Romney has now collected 521 delegates, compared to Santorum's 253, Gingrich's 136 and Paul's 50, according to The Associated Press count.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A White House official says President Barack Obama will make a four-state swing next week to tout his administration's "all of the above" energy policies.
The official says Obama will travel to Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Ohio from March 21-22.
The president's trip includes a stop in Cushing, Okla., site of an oil storage hub with a glut of supply. The administration has suggested developing an Oklahoma-to-Texas pipeline to alleviate the oil bottleneck in Cushing.
Obama will also visit a solar facility in Nevada and an oil and gas field on public land in Carlsbad, New Mexico. He will wrap up his trip with remarks on energy at Ohio State University.
The official requested anonymity because the trip has not been officially announced.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The Republican presidential contest rumbled into Puerto Rico Wednesday as a two-man race, with Rick Santorum nipping more aggressively at Mitt Romney's heels after again frustrating the front-runner in Southern primaries.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with little to show for pinning his hopes on the South, nonetheless vowed to stay in. His deputy campaign manager outlined a strategy aimed at denying Romney a clean win before the Republican convention in August and making Gingrich's case to delegates along the way.
But after winning Tuesday's primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum called for the party's faithful to unite behind him alone.
"Now is the time to pull together," Santorum declared to conservatives in Lafayette, La. "We are campaigning everywhere there are delegates because we are going to win this nomination before the convention."
Unbowed, Romney issued a statement noting his strong lead in the delegate race, saying, "I am pleased that we will be increasing our delegate count in a very substantial way after tonight." Earlier Tuesday, in an interview with CNN, Romney had said Santorum was "at the desperate end of his campaign."
Romney fared better in the night's two Pacific island contests. He salvaged a win in the Hawaii caucuses and won the support of all nine delegates at GOP caucuses in American Samoa. That means Santorum's two latest wins gain him little or no ground in the delegate count, despite their symbolic weight coming after his victories last week in Tennessee and Oklahoma.
The race now turns to Missouri's caucuses Saturday and Puerto Rico, which is reaping unusual attention before its primary Sunday. Illinois follows on Tuesday and Louisiana on March 24.
Santorum flew to San Juan fresh off his Southern victories, and planned events over the next two days. Romney wasn't slated to arrive in the U.S. territory until the end of the week, after spending two days in New York City to raise money.
Romney's seemingly unassailable delegate lead left his opponents' campaigns talking about less orthodox ways to stop him. John Brabender, senior strategist for the Santorum campaign, said many of the delegates weren't bound and could still switch their votes to Santorum.
Suggesting it's time for Gingrich to make way, Brabender told CNN Wednesday morning that the message was going out to tea party and conservative voters: "Let's make sure our voice is louder than the minority of the party who wants Mitt Romney."
Tuesday night's results marked the continuation of a long, hard-fought Republican nomination fight - and underscored Romney's persistent weakness with conservatives, particularly in the GOP's regional stronghold of the Deep South. Together, Santorum and Gingrich accounted for huge majorities of votes in Alabama and Mississippi, prompting Gingrich to crow: "The fact is, in both states, the conservative candidates got nearly 70 percent of the vote. If you're the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you're not much of a front-runner."
Romney had been hoping for at least one Southern victory Tuesday that might have allowed him to start arguing it was time for the party to gather behind him and begin the general election fight against President Barack Obama.
Instead, Romney now faces a resurgent Santorum - and he is without the overwhelming financial advantage he boasted throughout the early states. Romney's campaign trimmed some spending in recent weeks as he was forced to spend more time campaigning and less time fundraising. Still, he's got more delegates than his rivals combined.
Santorum's victories Tuesday were worth at least 35 delegates, but Romney won at least 41. Gingrich won at least 24, while Ron Paul picked up at least one. The delegate split underscored the difficulty that Romney's rivals face in overcoming his big lead.
The partial allocation of delegates from Tuesday's voting states left Romney with 495 in The Associated Press count, out of the 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Santorum had 252, Gingrich 131 and Paul 48.
And while Santorum in particular challenges the mathematical projections, Romney is amassing delegates at a rate that puts him on track to clinch control of nomination before the convention next summer.
A senior Romney adviser, Jim Talent, said the campaign is where it needs to be. "We're really running against the delegate totals more than any of the others," Talent told CNN Wednesday.
Gingrich deputy campaign manager Vince Haley suggested the former House speaker was putting himself in position to compete at a brokered convention, saying Gingrich could "win a debate in this country over the course of the rest of this campaign."
It is rare for Alabama and Mississippi to play an important role in a Republican nominating campaign, but the 2012 race has gone on far longer than usual. Equally improbable was the decision by Santorum and Romney to spend time during the next few days in Puerto Rico.
The Romney-aligned super PAC is already advertising in Illinois in hopes of gaining an advantage there.
All three candidates, as well as the super PACs supporting each of them, ran television commercials in Tuesday's Southern states. As has been the case all year, Restore Our Future, which backs Romney, spent more than any of the others, putting down $1.3 million for television ads in Alabama and another $900,000 in Mississippi.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. employers added 227,000 jobs in February to complete three of the best months of hiring since the recession ended. The unemployment rate was unchanged, largely because more people streamed into the work force.
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate stayed at 8.3 percent last month, the lowest in three years.
And hiring in January and December was better than first thought. The government revised those figures to show 61,000 an additional jobs.
The economy has now generated an average of 245,000 jobs in the past three months. The only stretch better since the recession began was in early 2010.
That bodes well for President Barack Obama's re-election chances, although he's still likely to face the highest unemployment rate of any post-war president.
"Overall, another very strong payroll report and there's every chance that March will bring more of the same," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics.
Stocks rose after the report was released. The Dow Jones industrial average added 30 points in early-morning trading. Broader indexes also increased.
Another strong month of hiring makes it less likely that the Federal Reserve will take additional steps to boost the economy at its meeting next week.
Last month's hiring was broad-based and in both high-paying and lower-paying industries. Manufacturing, mining, and professional services, such as accounting, all added jobs.
Still, wages are rising only modestly. Average hourly pay increased by 3 cents, to $23.31. In the past year, it has gone up only 1.9 percent - trailing the rate of inflation.
Governments at all levels cut only 6,000 jobs in February and 1,000 in January, after a revision. That's a welcome change from the heavy layoffs by cash-strapped states and cities over the past two years. Last year alone they cut an average of 22,000 jobs per month.
Nearly a half-million people began looking for work last month, and most found jobs, the report said. That's a sign of growing optimism in the job market, as many people who had given up on looking for work came off the sidelines to search for jobs.
That also counters a troubling trend: a key reason why the unemployment rate has dropped since last year is that many out-of-work people have stopped looking for work. Only people without jobs who are actively seeking one are counted as unemployed.
A sustained rise in the number of people looking for jobs is a good sign, even if the unemployment rate doesn't change.
"The unemployment rate is holding steady even as the labor force grows. That is a good outcome," said Dan Greenhaus, an analyst with BTIG, a brokerage firm in New York.
The report was filled with other promising details.
The so-called "underemployment" rate - which includes those who've given up looking for work and those with part-time jobs who want full-time work - fell to 14.9 percent. That's the lowest in three years.
The number of people employed in February - 142.1 million - was the highest since January 2009. Manufacturing payrolls were at their highest point since April 2009.
And over the past three months, the number of employed people has risen by 1.45 million, the biggest three-month gain since March 2000.
Friday's report comes as a host of data points to an improving economy and job market. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits have fallen about 14 percent in six months. Though they ticked up last week, average applications remain near a four-year low.
And service companies, which employ most Americans, are expanding at a faster pace, according to a private survey released this week. A gauge of employment shows that service firms are still hiring, particularly in the mining, educational services, and transportation and warehousing industries.
The service sector includes everything from restaurants and hotels to health care firms and financial service companies.
Some companies must hire because they can't squeeze more output from their current staffs. Last year, worker productivity rose at its slowest pace in nearly 25 years. That means companies will likely have to add staff to meet growing demand.
Other figures point to the same conclusion. The average work week was unchanged at 34.5 hours. That's close to the pre-recession total and suggests that companies will have to hire more workers as business improves, rather than adding more hours.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney said Wednesday he's "prepared to fight all
the way" to become the Republican presidential nominee after padding
his delegate count on Super Tuesday. Supporters of his chief rival, Rick
Santorum, tried to elbow Newt Gingrich out of the race in an effort to
give conservatives a clear alternative to the GOP front-runner.
But Gingrich, who won only his home state of Georgia in Tuesday's balloting across 10 states, said Wednesday he's pressing ahead and will "wait and see how the race goes."
Super Tuesday gave Romney a narrow victory in pivotal Ohio and wins in five other states, while Santorum laid claim to three states. Rep. Ron Paul won none. The split decision refreshed questions about Romney's appeal to conservatives, and guaranteed more convulsion ahead as Republicans struggle to settle on a candidate to take on President Barack Obama.
Leaders of a super political action committee supporting Santorum said it's time for Gingrich to step aside and let Santorum go head-to-head with Romney.
"It was a 10-state Super Tuesday — literally coast to coast — and all Gingrich managed to do was win his home state," said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the Red, White and Blue Fund. "If he remains in the race, it's only a hindrance to a conservative alternative to Romney. And Romney simply won't be the conservative alternative to Obama."
The PAC has spent about $3 million on TV ads helping Santorum's White House bid, and Roy predicted that Wednesday would be "a good day for fundraising."
Santorum himself pointed to his wins in the West, the Midwest and the South as proof he can win across this country.
In an appearance on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Romney insisted he's "getting the kind of support across the party that I need to become the nominee."
"We've got the time and the resources and a plan to get all the delegates, and we think that will get done before the convention," Romney said.
Gingrich, in a morning appearance on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" radio program, said there's no evidence Santorum could defeat Romney even in a one-on-one competition, and that he would have gotten out of the race if he'd lost Georgia.
"If I thought he was a slam dunk to beat Romney and to beat Obama, I would really consider getting out," Gingrich said. "I don't."
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia argued that Romney's claim to the nomination is inevitable, adding that Santorum and Gingrich "have not demonstrated an ability to do what needs to be done." But in a morning interview on CBS "This Morning," Cantor acknowledged there is still plenty of ongoing debate in "a robust party with many ideas."
Obama chose the busiest day of the GOP race to speak from the presidential bully pulpit, where he dismissed the Republicans' almost constant criticism of his administration.
"Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities," Obama said in a White House news conference. "They're not commander in chief."
In addition to claiming Ohio, Romney scored a home-state win in Massachusetts, and triumphs in Idaho, Vermont, Alaska, and Virginia. Santorum laid claim to Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota.
Gingrich's win in Georgia, which he represented for several terms in Congress, was his first victory since he captured the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21.
Paul, the veteran congressman from Texas, had pinned his hopes on winning Idaho and Alaska but fell short in both.
Ohio was the marquee matchup, and for good reason. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying the state in the general election. It was a second industrial-state showdown in as many weeks between Romney and Santorum and drew the most campaigning and television advertisements of the 10 Super Tuesday states.
With 99 percent of Ohio precincts reporting, Romney had 38 percent to Santorum's 37 percent, an uncomfortably close margin for a candidate who had spent nearly four times as much money as his rival in the state.
Romney spent $1.5 million in television advertisements and Restore Our Future, a super PAC that supports him, spent an additional $2.3 million. Santorum and the Red, White and Blue Fund that supports him, countered with about $1 million combined, according to information on file with the Federal Election Commission.
In all, 419 delegates were at stake across the 10 states. Romney picked up at least 212 delegates during the night; Santorum got 84, Gingrich 72 and Paul at least 22.
That gave the former Massachusetts governor 415, more than his three rivals combined. Santorum was second with 176 delegates, Gingrich had 105 and Paul had 47. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer.
In Oklahoma, Democratic officials were reviewing party rules to determine if the president lost a delegate to anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, who got 18 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. Obama got 57 of the Oklahoma vote, and the rest of the state's vote was fractured. Under party rules, Terry is eligible for a delegate since he got more than 15 percent of the statewide vote.
Until Tuesday, Obama had won all Democratic delegates awarded so far.
The race now moves to contests in Kansas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi and Missouri. Voting in Puerto Rico, Illinois and Louisiana rounds out the nomination schedule for March.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says he means it when he insists it's unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. "I don't bluff," Obama said in an interview published Friday.
In his most expansive remarks on the issue, Obama told The Atlantic magazine that Iran and Israel both understand that "a military component" is one of a mix of many options for dealing with Iran, along with sanctions and diplomacy.
Obama plans to meet Monday at the White House with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and will try to convince Netanyahu to postpone any plans his government may have to attack Iran's nuclear facilities in coming months.
The president said he won't advertise any U.S. plans for Iran. At the same time, Obama has consistently refused to renounce a military option for U.S. strategists.
"I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," he said in the interview. "I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But (both) governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."
Obama also warned that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: "At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?"
Obama also rejected as unreasonable a more limited policy of containment in confronting Iran's nuclear efforts.
"You're talking about the most volatile region in the world," he said. "It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe. "
He also pointed to economic turmoil in Iran and reiterated that sanctions against the Iranian regime are starting to bite.
In a series of recent meetings with Israeli leaders, administration officials are believed to have sought to persuade the Jewish state to give sanctions more time to work and to hold off on any military strike. Speaking Thursday to reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes there is still "time and space" for those measure to persuade the Iranian regime to take a different course.
Israeli officials acknowledge the pain in Iran but have publicly expressed doubt those measures will ever cause Iran's clerical leaders to change course.
Obama wasn't so sure. "They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing," he told the Atlantic. "They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them."
Before his meeting with Netanyahu. Obama plans to speak Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group that Netanyahu will also address.
Though Obama emphatically portrays himself as one of Israel's best friends, touting military and other ties, his relationship with Netanyahu has at times been frosty. The two have sparred publicly over Jewish settlements on the West Bank, with Netanyahu pushing back on Washington's efforts to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Iran issue has risen to the forefront of his foreign policy. At a fundraiser in New York on Thursday night, an audience member shouted out, urging the president to avoid a war with Iran.
"Nobody has announced a war," Obama cautioned. "You're jumping the gun a little bit."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama proudly embraced his auto
industry bailout Tuesday, telling a labor audience that assertions by
his Republican critics that union members profited from taxpayer-paid
rescue are a "load of you know what."
Obama delivered a politically sizzling and staunchly pro-union speech to the United Auto Workers just as voters in Michigan, a center of auto manufacturing, went to the polls to cast their ballots in the state's Republican nominating contest.
In a campaign style setting, union president Bob King introduced Obama as "the champion of all workers" who "saved our jobs and saved our industry," eliciting chants of "Four more years!"
The speech was part of an Obama strategy to steal some of the political limelight from Republicans on the same day that states hold their GOP primary votes or caucuses.
In highlighting the auto industry's comeback, Obama drew a distinct contrast with Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, both of whom have said they would not have used government money to save General Motors and Chrysler.
Obama's speech came as auto sales are surging, on a pace to exceed 14 million this year. Auto makers and parts companies added more than 38,000 jobs last year, with industry employment averaging 717,000 for 2011. And automakers have announced plans to add another 13,000 jobs this year.
Romney on Sunday said Obama favored the UAW in the bailout and that the president was "paying off the people that supported him."
Obama did not mention the Republican presidential contenders by name, but they were certainly his targets.
"You've got folks saying. `Well, the real problem is, what we really disagreed with was the workers, they all made out like bandits; that saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions,"' Obama said. "Really? Even by the standards of this town, that's a load of you-know-what."
He noted that under the agreement to use taxpayer money to save GM and Chrysler, union members had to agree to reduced wages and that thousands of retirees saw reductions in their health care benefits.
"But they're still talking about you as if you're some special interest that needs to be beaten down," Obama said.
The president sought to portray himself as a longtime ally of labor, recalling his days as a community organizer working with steel workers who had been laid off when their plants shut down.
"That still drives me today," he said, reiterating a line he uses in political campaign events. "So I'll promise you this: as long as you've got an ounce of fight left in you, I'll have a ton of fight left in me."
Obama also announced that his administration will crack down on unfair trade practices worldwide, a popular theme with labor and a counterpunch to Romney's tough-on-China rhetoric. Obama was signing an executive order creating an Interagency Trade Enforcement Center.
The office will expand the administration's ability to challenge unfair trading practices in China and elsewhere and coordinate enforcement activity across several U.S. government agencies. Obama's most recent budget proposal asks Congress for millions of dollars for the new enforcement center and more U.S. inspectors in China.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Mitt Romney is fighting to avoid an embarrassing home-state loss in a high-stakes Michigan primary that will not decide the Republican presidential contest but could scar the former Massachusetts governor just a week before Super Tuesday.
Rival Rick Santorum is calling upon an unusual coalition of tea party activists, religious conservatives and Democrats to help topple Romney and reclaim the momentum in the increasingly heated nomination battle.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, confirmed on the eve of the election that he had targeted Michigan Democrats with automated phone calls encouraging them to vote against Romney.
"We're going to get voters that we need to be able to win this election. And we're going to do that here in Michigan today," Santorum said Tuesday when asked about the "robo-call" outside the New Beginnings Restaurant in Kentwood, Mich.
He suggested that Romney did much the same thing by courting independent voters before New Hampshire's GOP primary. And he accused his rival of employing his own "dirty trick" by running automated calls featuring a recording of Santorum endorsing Romney before the 2008 election.
"I didn't complain about it. I don't complain. You know what? I'm a big guy. I can take it," Santorum said.
Only Michigan Republicans may vote in Tuesday's GOP primary, but party rules allow voters to change their affiliation temporarily on the spot. The potential involvement of Democrats adds a new twist to a contest already expected to have significant implications for Romney's White House bid.
Romney, appearing Tuesday on Fox News Channel, called the phone calls "outrageous and disgusting — a terrible, dirty trick." He accused Santorum of "teaming up with Barack Obama's people" to derail the Romney campaign.
"This is a new low for his campaign and that's saying something," Romney told Fox.
Neither Newt Gingrich nor Ron Paul is actively competing in Michigan's contest, or in Arizona's Tuesday primary, which Romney is expected to win handily, in part because of the state's Mormon population.
Romney was born and raised in Michigan, where his father served as governor. But Santorum's rise in polls following a three-state sweep earlier in the month has forced Romney to work hard in Michigan over the past week. He's hosted nearly a dozen public events as he and his allies have spent more than $2 million on local television advertising.
Santorum campaigned Tuesday around Grand Rapids, a city set in a western Michigan region home to many social conservatives and tea party supporters.
"I don't trust him," Carol Alexander, of nearby Wyoming, said of Romney while waiting for Santorum to arrive at the Rainbow Grille in Grandville, Mich.
A self-described religious conservative, she said she was leaning toward Santorum, whom she says "speaks what he believes."
Alexander said she's been inundated with phone calls from campaigns in recent days, adding that "it's been getting kind of nasty," but discounted the impact of Santorum's latest tactic.
"Do you really think a liberal is going to vote for Santorum?" she asked with a smile. "I don't think they're going to do it."
Romney is spending primary day 130 miles to the east in suburban Detroit, an area with a larger collection of moderate Republicans, a key segment of his support.
Romney's overwhelming advantages in Michigan, however, may not pay off in a contest generally dominated by the Republican Party's more conservative flank. He trailed Santorum by a significant margin in polls as recently as last week. In recent days, however, those polls have tightened, leaving Tuesday's election essentially a tossup.
Romney predicted victory Monday night as a crowd gathered at the Royal Oak Music Theatre waited to hear rocker-rapper Kid Rock perform.
"I'm going to win in Michigan and I'm going to win across the country," Romney said.
Santorum, perhaps in a nod to the recent swing in the polls, was more cautious as he spoke to voters in Lansing.
"I think the fact that we are doing as well as we are is a pretty big deal in this state," he said.
Paul, who was ending a three-state tour of Michigan on Monday, told supporters that his goal is to "whittle away" at the total number of delegates available. Speaking to supporters in Democrat-friendly Detroit, the Texas congressman said, "Everybody knows I'm not a conventional Republican."
No matter the top finisher, Romney and Santorum stand to split the 30 delegates at stake because Michigan distributes delegates proportionally. By contrast, Romney is favored to capture all 29 delegates in Arizona, which features a winner-take-all system.
Washington state holds its caucuses Saturday, with 40 delegates at stake. On Super Tuesday, March 6, 10 primaries and caucuses take place, with 419 delegates.
Romney has 123 delegates to 72 for Santorum, 32 for Gingrich and 19 for Paul in the Associated Press count, with 1,144 required to win the party nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Despite the outcome, there are signs that voters continue to be unhappy with the current Republican field.
Back at the Rainbow Grille, Alexander said she may favor Santorum over Romney, but doesn't see enough "fight" in either man.
"These are the choices we have," she said. "I'd like to see somebody else jump in."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
LIVONIA, Mich. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is calling for a bigger role for religion in the public square and faults President Barack Obama for marginalizing faith.
Speaking to a suburban Detroit chamber of commerce on the eve of Tuesday's primary, Santorum says freedom of religion has been "turned on its head."
The former Pennsylvania senator told about 300 people in Lavonia: "I'm for separation of church and state. The state has no business telling the church what to do."
Campaigning as the stricter conservative, Santorum is locked in a fierce battle in Michigan with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Romney, who stirs doubts among some conservatives, recently has sought to undermine Santorum's conservative credentials by pointing to Senate votes he acknowledged were against his principles.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
MIAMI (AP) -- President Barack Obama says simply calling for more drilling is just a "bumper sticker," not a real plan for bringing down rising gas prices.
Seeking to draw a contrast with Republican presidential hopefuls, Obama says the focus on drilling is just "a strategy to get politicians through an election."
Obama says his administration's "all-of-the-above strategy," which includes oil, gas, wind and solar power, is the "only real solution" to the nation's energy challenges.
Confronting public anxiety over rising gas prices, Obama says the current spike is a "painful reminder" of why developing new energy is critical to the nation's future.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama rolled out a corporate tax overhaul plan Wednesday that lowers rates but also eliminates loopholes and subsidies cherished by the business world. A long-shot for action in an election year, the plan nevertheless stamps Obama's imprint on one of the most high-profile issues of the presidential campaign.
The president's plan to lower the corporate tax rate to 28 percent came on the same day Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney called for a 20 percent across-the-board cut in personal income tax rates, underscoring the potency of taxes as a political issue, especially during a modest economic recovery.
Obama has not laid out a plan for overhauling personal income taxes. But he has called for Bush era tax cuts to end on individuals making more than $200,000, thus increasing their taxes, and for a 30 percent minimum tax on taxpayers who make $1 million or more.
Obama decried the current corporate tax system as outdated, unfair and inefficient. "It's not right and it needs to change," he said in a statement.
The president would reduce the current 35 percent corporate tax, which is the highest in the world after Japan but which many corporations avoid by taking advantage of deductions, credits and exemptions. Under his plan, manufacturers would receive incentives so that they would pay an even lower effective tax rate of 25 percent.
His plan would eliminate corporate tax benefits like oil and gas industry subsidies and special breaks for the purchase of private jets - two provisions that Obama has long targeted - and do away with certain corporate tax shelters.
In addition, Obama also would impose a minimum tax on foreign earnings, a move opposed by multinational corporations and perhaps the most contentious provision in the president's plan.
"It's a framework that lowers the corporate tax rate and broadens the tax base in order to increase competitiveness for companies across the nation," Obama said.
Romney has also called for a 25 percent corporate tax rate, in line with what some congressional Republicans want. Campaigning in Arizona, the former Massachusetts governor said that if elected president he would propose lowering the top personal income tax rate to 28 percent from the current 35.
In Congress, Republican reaction was mixed. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said he appreciated the administration's plan, though it set a corporate tax rate that is higher than the 25 percent he has proposed. He faulted Obama, however, for not offering a wholesale overhaul of the tax system for businesses and individuals.
"While this is a good step by the administration, I will borrow from the president's own words to Congress from just yesterday: `Don't stop here. Keep going,'" Camp said in a statement. But Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, dismissed the president's plan as a "set of bullet points designed more for the campaign trail than an actual blueprint for fixing our tax code."
The issue of taxation has been a recurrent theme throughout Obama's presidency. He has reduced some taxes for small businesses and has pressed Congress to temporarily cut payroll taxes on American workers to help prime the weak economy.
But he has also called for reducing the nation's long-term deficits with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. Republicans have flatly rejected tax increases. And Romney on Wednesday criticized Obama's proposal for corporations, saying they would result in higher taxes.
Under the framework proposed by the administration, the rate cuts, closed loopholes and the minimum tax on overseas earning would result in no increase to the deficit.
That means that many businesses that slip through loopholes or enjoy subsidies and pay an effective tax rate that is substantially less than the 35 percent corporate tax could end up paying more under Obama's plan. Others, however, would pay less while some would simply benefit from a more simplified system.
Obama's plan would result in about $250 billion in additional revenue over the next 10 years. But that money would be used to pay business tax credits that are currently temporary and that Obama would make permanent, administration officials said.
Corporate income taxes have been shrinking as a share of overall federal taxes for decades. In 2010, corporate income taxes made up just 12 percent of all federal tax receipts, down from 24 percent in 1960, according to the IRS.
Reducing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent would reduce tax revenues by about $700 billion over the next decade, according to an estimate prepared in October by the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for Congress.
That means lawmakers would have to find about $70 billion a year in tax increases to keep the package from adding to the budget deficit, hardly an easy task.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who presented Obama's plan, acknowledged that the debate "will be politically contentious."
"Some will say these proposals are too tough on business, and others will say that they're not tough enough," he said.
Indeed, several liberal-leaning groups criticized Obama's plan for being "revenue neutral" and not generating more tax money to pay for government programs. "We can and should collect more tax revenue from corporations," said Bob McIntyre, the director of Citizens for Tax Justice.
But the business groups objected to Obama's plan to impose a minimum tax on foreign earnings, insisting instead that the administration embrace a "territorial" system of taxation.
The United States taxes U.S.-based multinational corporations on foreign profits, once that money is returned to the United States. In a territorial system, the U.S. would only tax profits made in the U.S. By taxing the foreign profits of U.S.-based multinationals, the U.S. has a worldwide system of taxation.
Those foreign profits are not taxed unless they are brought to the United States. And, in many cases, they are simply reinvested overseas, so they are never subjected to U.S. taxes. Administration officials said that under Obama's plan, multinational corporations would continue to receive a tax credit for any taxes they pay overseas.
Among critics of his plan were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the high-tech industry, a group Obama has been eager to court.
"The framework would punish successful companies and push investments out of the United States," said Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents firms such as Cisco Systems Inc., Google, Apple Inc., and Intel Corp.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A surging Rick Santorum is running even with Mitt Romney atop the Republican presidential field, but neither candidate is faring well against President Barack Obama eight months before Americans vote, a new survey shows.
Obama tops 50 percent support when matched against each of the four GOP candidates and holds a significant lead over each of them, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll. Republicans, meanwhile, are divided on whether they'd rather see Romney or Santorum capture the nomination, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul lagging behind. It's a troubling sign for the better-funded Romney as the GOP race heads toward crucial votes in his home state of Michigan, in Arizona and in an array of states on Super Tuesday, March 6.
"I'd pick Santorum, because it seems Romney may be waffling on a few issues and I'm not sure I trust him," said Thomas Stehlin, 66, of St. Clair Shores, Mich. He thinks the Detroit-born son of a Michigan governor is facing a strong challenge from Santorum in his home state because of his tangled answers on the auto industry bailout.
Also, he says, there's this: Romney, the self-described can-do turnaround artist of the corporate world and the troubled Salt Lake City Olympics, with his millions of dollars, has been unable to vanquish his political opponents.
"That may be the reason right there," said Stehlin, a retired government worker and a Republican. "He spends lots of money and he doesn't get anywhere."
Nationally, Republicans are evenly split between Romney and Santorum. The poll found 33 percent would most like to see Santorum get the nomination, while 32 percent prefer Romney. Gingrich and Paul each had 15 percent support.
Romney's fall from presumed front-runner to struggling establishment favorite has given his opponents an opening as he tries to expand his support. His Republican rivals have stepped in claiming to be a more consistent conservative and viable opponent against Obama, and each of the last three AP-GfK polls has found a different contender battling Romney for the top spot. But Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and abortion foe, has hit his stride at a key moment in the nomination contest.
Santorum's spike comes as satisfaction with the field of candidates remains tepid and interest in the contest is cools. About 6 in 10 Republicans in the poll say they are satisfied with the people running for the nomination, stagnant since December and below the 66 percent that felt that way in October. Only 23 percent are strongly satisfied with the field and 4 in 10 said they are dissatisfied with the candidates running, the poll found. And deep interest in the race is slipping: Just 40 percent of Republicans say they have a great deal of interest in following the contest, compared with 48 percent in December.
"It seems like in the last month or so everything's just chilled out," said James Jackson of Fort Worth, Texas, a 40-year-old independent who leans Republican. "I just haven't been following it lately."
Santorum remains Romney's biggest threat. He won GOP contests in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, stunning the GOP establishment that Romney has methodically courted since his first bid for the GOP nomination in 2008. The poll suggested more people are getting to know and like Santorum, with 44 percent of all adults saying they have a favorable impression of him, compared with 25 percent in December. The share with negative views has grown as well, with 42 percent having an unfavorable opinion of Santorum.
Among Republicans in that time period, Santorum has shot from 37 percent to 70 percent favorable.
There's evidence that Santorum's comments about social issues may not have hurt him so far among women.
The former Pennsylvania senator has been unapologetic in his opposition to abortion and his concerns about working moms, women in combat and contraception - some of the many examples he cites while making the case that he would draw a clearer contrast than Romney against Obama.
For all that, there's little evident gender gap between Romney and Santorum, the AP-GfK poll showed. Santorum, who made some of the comments while the poll was being conducted Feb. 16-20, runs even with Romney among both Republican men and women. And Republican women may be rallying to his defense: Seventy-five percent of GOP women have a favorable impression of Santorum, compared with 66 percent of Republican men, the poll found.
The enduring split between Romney and whichever Republican opponent is up at any moment reflects a familiar dispute in the broader GOP over whether to focus on social issues or financial matters in presidential races. According to exit and entrance polls conducted so far this cycle, Romney has carried voters who called the economy their top issue in 4 out of 5 states, while Santorum has drawn broader support among those calling abortion their top concern. Abortion has lagged well behind the economy as a priority for voters through the Nevada caucuses, but the recent focus on social issues in the campaign could increase its importance.
Among conservative Republicans, Santorum holds a decisive edge, with 41 percent preferring him and 27 percent supporting Romney. But ask moderate and liberal Republicans the same question and the results flip: Forty percent favor Romney while 20 percent prefer Santorum.
Similarly, tea party Republicans also favor Santorum over Romney, 44 percent to 23 percent. Non-tea partyers tilt toward Romney, with 38 percent preferring him and 25 percent supporting Santorum.
Santorum enjoys an edge among Republicans age 45 and up, those paying the closest attention to the GOP race and born-again and evangelical voters.
Looking ahead to the general election, Obama holds an 8-point lead over Romney, 9 points over Santorum and 10 points over Gingrich or Paul, the survey found.
Notably, the survey showed the president dominating among independents, a group central to Obama's 2008 victory, whose support for him had faltered in recent months. According to the poll, 6 in 10 independents would choose Obama over any of the Republicans.
There was good news for Republicans, too: Any of the four Republican candidates would likely top Obama among those age 65 and over, as well as among whites without college degrees.
For their part, Democrats were watching with some glee.
"It's been a great show," said Karen Clark, 38, a radio personality from Raleigh, N.C., who's voting for Obama.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Feb. 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved telephone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Relishing a political victory, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that Congress "did the right thing" by extending payroll tax cuts for millions of Americans. He urged lawmakers to push forward on more measures, from assistance to struggling homeowners to increased taxes on the wealthy, saying the looming election was no excuse for inaction in Washington.
"Don't stop here. Keep going,'" Obama said during a White House event marking the passage of the tax cuts.
"Keep taking the action that people are calling for to keep this economy growing. This may be an election year, but the American people have no patience for gridlock," he said.
Obama was celebrating a tax cut that is already in place, but due to expire at month's end. He said the extension of the tax cut for the rest of the year will have a spillover effect: More people will spend money and more businesses in turn will be prodded to hire workers, and so "the entire economy" gets a boost.
Congress overwhelmingly passed the $143 billion measure on Friday. The bill extends both a 2 percentage point reduction in the tax that funds Social Security and extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. The measure also averts a big cut in the reimbursements doctors get for treating Medicare patients.
But Tuesday's event was not a bill-signing because the bill is not yet in Obama's hands. Not knowing when the legislation will come down from Capitol Hill, the White House decided to go ahead and hold its event now, while the victory is still fresh in people's minds. No major event is planned for the actual bill-signing.
The payroll tax cut was a centerpiece of the jobs plan Obama unveiled last year - and of a re-election strategy that seeks to cast his GOP foes as protectors of the rich out of touch with the worries of working families.
Obama never mentioned that a real driver of the deal Congress approved Friday was the political fallout on Republicans if they didn't give ground. Having endured a debacle in December, when they were seen as holding up the tax cut before caving, Republicans this time went along, and without demanding that the cost be paid for, either.
The White House said the average family would have lost $40 per paycheck had the tax cut not been extended. Throughout the payroll tax debate, the White House encouraged people to write in on social networking sites about how losing that money would affect their lives.
Several members of the public who submitted their thoughts were invited to join Obama at events promoting the tax cuts, including his remarks Tuesday.
"This got done because of you," Obama said. "Because you called, you emailed, you tweeted your representatives and you demanded action. You made it clear that you wanted to see some common sense in Washington."
White House officials have called the payroll tax cut the last "must-do" legislation Obama has to work with Congress on ahead of the November presidential election. Still, Obama made a push Tuesday for several other priorities outlined in his jobs bill and last month's State of the Union address, including legislation to assist small business owners and struggling homeowners.
Obama earlier this month proposed a vast expansion of government assistance to homeowners that would make lower lending rates a possibility for millions of borrowers who have not been able to get out from under burdensome mortgages. The proposal has special resonance in election battlegrounds such as Nevada and Florida that have faced record foreclosures.
Obama wants Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for more borrowers to refinance their loans, creating a new program through the Federal Housing Administration that would have the government assume the risk for the new mortgages. The proposal faces a difficult path in Congress.
Obama also said he wants Congress to pass the so-called Buffett rule, which seeks to ensure that people making more than $1 million a year pay at least 30 percent of their incomes in taxes.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama raised $29.1 million for his campaign and for the Democratic Party in January, a strong fundraising month that put him ahead of the pace he set in the last quarter of 2011.
In a Twitter message Friday morning, the Obama campaign announced the president raised the money for his re-election effort, for the Democratic National Committee and related committees. The campaign raises money directly from donors and through a Victory Fund that splits proceeds with party efforts devoted to Obama's re-election.
The month's haul raises Obama's total combined fundraising for this election cycle to about $250 million. In the last three months of 2011, he averaged about $23 million a month.
That fundraising concluded before the campaign's announcement this month that, in a reversal, Obama would embrace the big big-money fundraising groups he once criticized and let them help in his re-election. Those so-called super PACs, financed with large donations from a small group of individuals, have been prominent in the Republican presidential primary and are also poised to spend millions in the general election contest.
The Obama campaign did not immediately provide a breakdown of the January fundraising but said 98 percent of the January donations were $250 or less.
Many of those donors, however, are repeat contributors, meaning that their aggregate donations over the past year would exceed $250. Still, the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, which analyzes contributions, found that small donors, those whose aggregate contributions amounted to less than $200, accounted for 48 percent of Obama's campaign income in 2011.
That more than doubles the small donor contributions to his campaign in 2007, as he mounted his first campaign for president. What's more, the institute found that small donors accounted for only 9 percent of 2011 fundraising for Republican Mitt Romney, who is battling for front-runner status in the GOP presidential primary and is the top fundraiser in the Republican contest.
Obama also relies on an extended team of more than 440 supporters who help him raise money, including 61 people who each raised at least half a million dollars. Altogether, those top dollar fundraisers collected at least $75 million last year to help Obama win a second term.
Presidential candidates must submit January fundraising reports to the Federal Election Commission on Friday. The Obama campaign's full report is expected later in the day.
The January numbers were being reported as Obama concluded a three-day swing of California and Washington that included eight fundraisers, most of them high-dollar events. All told, the president was expected to raise more than $8 million during the trip.
Obama repeatedly tells his audiences of donors that this election will be more difficult and encourages them to rekindle the vigor of his supporters in 2008.
"And that's not going to be easy because, first of all, I'm older and I'm grayer," he told about 70 high-dollar contributors in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood Thursday night. "So it's not as new, it's not as trendy to be part of the Obama campaign -- although some of you still have your posters, I'm sure.
"And part of it is we've gone through three tough years and so people want to hope, but they've been worn down by a lot of hardship."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
(AP) -- A compromise bill extending a payroll tax cut and jobless
benefits for the long-term unemployed should be enacted, but it's not
going to help the economy very much, House Speaker John Boehner said
Thursday. Boehner, R-Ohio, made the remarks
hours after bipartisan congressional bargainers announced agreement on
legislation extending those provisions through 2012 and heading off a
steep cut in reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare patients.
The bill would assure a continued tax cut for 160 million workers and
jobless benefits for several million others, delivering top
election-year priorities to President Barack Obama and edging a
white-hot political battle a big step closer to resolution. Boehner told reporters the accord is "a fair agreement and one that I support." But
he said an issue over legislative language remains unresolved - he did
not reveal what it is - and did not say if Congress would vote on the
pact by Friday. That has been congressional leaders' goal. In
a jab at Obama, Boehner minimized the impact the measure would have.
Last fall, Obama proposed extending the payroll tax cut and added
jobless benefits through this year as major pillars of his program for
creating jobs. "Let's face it, this is an economic relief package, not a bill that is going to grow the economy and create jobs," Boehner said. Boehner's
comment underscored the GOP's desire to limit Obama's ability to
declare victory over the legislation. The fight over the payroll tax cut
and jobless benefits has been waged since late last year and has taken a
political toll on Republicans. Both proposals
initially ran into GOP resistance, some of which lingers. But
Republicans have largely concluded it would be damaging to oppose the
package, particularly in this presidential and congressional election
year. That contrasted with their attitude in
December, when House Republicans refused to back a bipartisan Senate
bill providing a two-month extension of the tax cuts and jobless
benefits while bargainers completed a yearlong deal. Within days, they
retreated under barrages of criticism from Republicans and conservatives
around the country. Illustrating their
reluctance to be seen as blocking a middle-class tax cut, House
Republicans removed the major hurdle to the legislation earlier this
week when they agreed that the payroll tax cut - comprising about
two-thirds of the measure's cost - would not have to be paid for with
spending cuts. The House's top Democrat, Rep.
Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats are mostly satisfied with the compromise
and said it should be pushed through Congress quickly. "I don't think the American people can wait another day," Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. Pelosi
said that while Democrats were hoping parts of the roughly $150 billion
measure could be paid for with savings from winding down wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, "I don't see a scenario where our members would vote
against it." The two lead negotiators, Rep.
David Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said shortly after
midnight that they had reached agreement and that only technical issues
and the drafting of legislative language remained. The bargainers spent Wednesday trying to extinguish last-minute brushfires. Chief
among the late disputes was a proposal to save around $15 billion -
about half the $30 billion cost of the bill's extended jobless benefits -
by requiring federal workers to contribute an additional 1.5 percent of
their pay to their pensions. Democrats,
including Sen. Ben Cardin and others from Maryland, home to many
government employees, resisted that plan, holding up a final handshake
among congressional bargainers. The provision was ultimately changed to
target the boost only at newly hired federal workers, requiring them to
contribute 2.3 percent of their salaries toward defined benefit
pensions. There was little controversy over the main thrust of the bill. A
2-percentage-point cut in the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax,
which is deducted from workers' paychecks, would run through 2012. For a
family earning $50,000 a year, the cut saves $1,000 annually. Extra
unemployment benefits for people out of work the longest would be
extended for the same period, and a 27 percent slash in federal
reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare patients would be
averted. Unless Congress acts, the tax cut and
added jobless benefits would expire, and doctors' Medicare payments
would be reduced, all on March 1. In a GOP
win, the bill would phase down the current maximum 99 weeks of jobless
coverage to 73 weeks in the hardest-hit states by autumn, though in most
states, people would get no more than 63 weeks. Besides
increasing new federal workers' pension contributions, more savings
were supposed to come from government sales of parts of the broadcast
spectrum to wireless companies. The spectrum auction was supposed to
raise about $15 billion - even after $7 billion would be spent for a new
communications network for emergency workers. The
government's main welfare program would be continued through this year.
Republicans won a provision barring welfare recipients from using their
electronic cards to withdraw cash from teller machines in liquor
stores, strip clubs and casinos. The $20
billion price tag for preventing the cut in doctors' Medicare
reimbursements would be covered partly by trimming a fund Obama's health
care overhaul created to help prevent obesity and smoking. There would
also be reductions in Medicaid payments to hospitals that treat high
numbers of uninsured patients. Dropped from
the final compromise were proposals to renew expiring business tax cuts;
a GOP plan to require unemployment recipients to work toward high
school equivalency diplomas; and another Republican provision, aimed at
illegal immigrants, requiring low-income people to have Social Security
numbers before they can get checks from the Internal Revenue Service for
the children's tax credit. ----------------------- Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A compromise bill extending a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed should be enacted, but it's not going to help the economy very much, House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday.
Boehner, R-Ohio, made the remarks hours after bipartisan congressional bargainers announced agreement on legislation extending those provisions through 2012 and heading off a steep cut in reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare patients. The bill would assure a continued tax cut for 160 million workers and jobless benefits for several million others, delivering top election-year priorities to President Barack Obama and edging a white-hot political battle a big step closer to resolution.
Boehner told reporters the accord is "a fair agreement and one that I support."
But he said an issue over legislative language remains unresolved - he did not reveal what it is - and did not say if Congress would vote on the pact by Friday. That has been congressional leaders' goal.
In a jab at Obama, Boehner minimized the impact the measure would have. Last fall, Obama proposed extending the payroll tax cut and added jobless benefits through this year as major pillars of his program for creating jobs.
"Let's face it, this is an economic relief package, not a bill that is going to grow the economy and create jobs," Boehner said.
Boehner's comment underscored the GOP's desire to limit Obama's ability to declare victory over the legislation. The fight over the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits has been waged since late last year and has taken a political toll on Republicans.
Both proposals initially ran into GOP resistance, some of which lingers. But Republicans have largely concluded it would be damaging to oppose the package, particularly in this presidential and congressional election year.
That contrasted with their attitude in December, when House Republicans refused to back a bipartisan Senate bill providing a two-month extension of the tax cuts and jobless benefits while bargainers completed a yearlong deal. Within days, they retreated under barrages of criticism from Republicans and conservatives around the country.
Illustrating their reluctance to be seen as blocking a middle-class tax cut, House Republicans removed the major hurdle to the legislation earlier this week when they agreed that the payroll tax cut - comprising about two-thirds of the measure's cost - would not have to be paid for with spending cuts.
The House's top Democrat, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats are mostly satisfied with the compromise and said it should be pushed through Congress quickly.
"I don't think the American people can wait another day," Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters.
Pelosi said that while Democrats were hoping parts of the roughly $150 billion measure could be paid for with savings from winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "I don't see a scenario where our members would vote against it."
The two lead negotiators, Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said shortly after midnight that they had reached agreement and that only technical issues and the drafting of legislative language remained.
The bargainers spent Wednesday trying to extinguish last-minute brushfires.
Chief among the late disputes was a proposal to save around $15 billion - about half the $30 billion cost of the bill's extended jobless benefits - by requiring federal workers to contribute an additional 1.5 percent of their pay to their pensions.
Democrats, including Sen. Ben Cardin and others from Maryland, home to many government employees, resisted that plan, holding up a final handshake among congressional bargainers. The provision was ultimately changed to target the boost only at newly hired federal workers, requiring them to contribute 2.3 percent of their salaries toward defined benefit pensions.
There was little controversy over the main thrust of the bill.
A 2-percentage-point cut in the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax, which is deducted from workers' paychecks, would run through 2012. For a family earning $50,000 a year, the cut saves $1,000 annually.
Extra unemployment benefits for people out of work the longest would be extended for the same period, and a 27 percent slash in federal reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare patients would be averted.
Unless Congress acts, the tax cut and added jobless benefits would expire, and doctors' Medicare payments would be reduced, all on March 1.
In a GOP win, the bill would phase down the current maximum 99 weeks of jobless coverage to 73 weeks in the hardest-hit states by autumn, though in most states, people would get no more than 63 weeks.
Besides increasing new federal workers' pension contributions, more savings were supposed to come from government sales of parts of the broadcast spectrum to wireless companies. The spectrum auction was supposed to raise about $15 billion - even after $7 billion would be spent for a new communications network for emergency workers.
The government's main welfare program would be continued through this year. Republicans won a provision barring welfare recipients from using their electronic cards to withdraw cash from teller machines in liquor stores, strip clubs and casinos.
The $20 billion price tag for preventing the cut in doctors' Medicare reimbursements would be covered partly by trimming a fund Obama's health care overhaul created to help prevent obesity and smoking. There would also be reductions in Medicaid payments to hospitals that treat high numbers of uninsured patients.
Dropped from the final compromise were proposals to renew expiring business tax cuts; a GOP plan to require unemployment recipients to work toward high school equivalency diplomas; and another Republican provision, aimed at illegal immigrants, requiring low-income people to have Social Security numbers before they can get checks from the Internal Revenue Service for the children's tax credit.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Aides to participants in House-Senate talks on renewing President Barack Obama's signature payroll tax cut say negotiators have made significant progress and that an agreement could come as early as Tuesday.
A Democratic aide said there are just a couple of "lingering issues" and that negotiators are "getting closer and closer." The aide required anonymity to assess the private negotiations.
The negotiations have intensified after House GOP leaders dropped a demand that the $100 billion or so cost of renewing the 2 percentage point cut in the Social Security payroll tax be defrayed with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
But negotiators still need to find savings to pay for the $30 billion cost of renewing jobless benefits and $20 billion price for fixing a Medicare payment formula for doctors.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Republican roller coaster ride continued Tuesday as Rick Santorum joined Mitt Romney at the top of two national polls.
A CBS/New York Times poll suggests 30 percent of likely Republican primary and caucus voters support Santorum, with 27 percent favoring Romney. A Pew Research poll also has Santorum leading Romney, 30 percent to 28 percent.
Each margin falls within its respective poll's sampling error.
Fellow GOP candidates Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul failed to garner more than 17 percent in either poll.
Santorum's surge does not seem to translate to a hypothetical match-up with President Obama, however. According to the Pew poll, the president holds a 10 percentage point lead over the former Pennsylvania senator, 53 percent to 43 percent. The president also leads Romney in the Pew poll, 52 percent to 44 percent.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Monday sent Congress a new budget that seeks to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade while at the same time showering billions of dollars of increased spending on areas aimed at giving the economy a quick boost.
The submission was immediately attacked by Republicans as a retread of ideas Congress has already rejected. The battle is likely to extend all the way to the November elections with major decisions by Congress not expected until a lame duck session late in the year.
In a fact sheet previewing the budget, the administration sought to cast the debate as a fight to protect the middle class following decades of eroding security and a deep recession.
"We must transform our budget from one focused on speculating, spending and borrowing to one constructed on the solid foundation of educating, innovating and building," the administration said.
Obama was scheduled to speak later Monday to students at Northern Virginia Community College to highlight a new $8 billion proposal that aims at boosting the ability of the nation's community colleges to train students for the jobs of the future.
Jack Lew, the president's chief of staff, made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to promote the spending initiative as a balanced approach that will focus on the short-term imperative to provide more support to the economy while attacking long-term deficits.
While administration officials defended the plan as a balanced approach, Republicans attacked the effort for failing to do more to restrain the deficit, which Obama had promised in 2009 to cut in half by the end of his first term.
"It seems like the president has decided again to campaign instead of govern," Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in an interview. "He's just going to duck the responsibility to tackle this country's fiscal problems."
Ryan is preparing an alternative to Obama's budget that will be similar to a measure that the House approved last year but failed in the Senate.
This year's budget debate is expected to dominate the presidential contest and congressional elections with the issue not finally resolved probably until a lame-duck session of Congress after the November election, when lawmakers will have to decide what to do with expiring Bush-era tax cuts and looming across-the-board spending cuts.
Obama's spending plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1 projects a deficit for this year of $1.33 trillion. That would mean four straight years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits.
Under Obama's outline, the deficit would decline to $901 billion in 2013 with continued improvements shrinking the deficit to $575 billion in 2018.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Democrats did not want to vote on Obama's spending plan, so he would once again put it forward for a Senate vote where he predicted it would fail as it did last year.
Lew blamed House Republicans for pushing extreme measures rather than trying to reach consensus with Democrats and avoid the kinds of last-minute crises that roiled financial markets in 2011, such as the summer showdown over raising the government's borrowing limit.
"Congress didn't do a great job last year. It drove right to the edge of the cliff on occasion after occasion," Lew said.
According to the White House fact sheet, Obama's budget will adhere closely to the approach he outlined in September in a submission to the congressional "supercommittee" that failed to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in additional spending cuts to keep across-the-board cuts from taking effect next January.
The Obama budget sticks to the caps on annual appropriations approved in August that will save $1 trillion over the next decade. It also puts forward $1.5 trillion in new taxes, primarily by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of this year for families making $250,000 or more per year.
Obama, as he has in the past, also proposed eliminating tax deductions the wealthy receive and would also put in place a rule named for billionaire Warren Buffett that would seek to make sure that households making more than $1 million annually pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.
Obama would also impose a new $61 billion tax over 10 years on big banks aimed at recovering the costs of the financial bailout and providing money to help homeowners facing foreclosure on their homes. It would raise $41 billion over 10 years by eliminating tax breaks for oil, gas and coal companies and claims significant savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lew said the budget would cut spending by $2.50 for every $1 in extra taxes it seeks.
Among the areas targeted for increases, Obama is proposing $476 billion in increased spending on transportation projects including efforts to expand inner-city rail services.
To spur job creation in the short-term, Obama is proposing a $50 billion "upfront" investment for transportation, $30 billion to modernize at least 35,000 schools and $30 billion to help states hire teachers and police, rescue and fire department workers. Republicans in Congress, opposed to further stimulus spending, have blocked these proposals in the past.
The White House said Monday Obama will seek $8 billion to create a fund to encourage community colleges and businesses to work together to train workers in high-growth industries.
The Obama budget seeks $360 billion in savings in Medicare and Medicaid mainly through reduced payments to health care providers, avoiding tougher measures advocated by House Republicans and the deficit commissions that said it was critical to restrain health care costs.
Web Producer: Ken Hines
WASHINGTON (AP) -- GOP presidential rivals made contrasting appeals to conservatives Friday, with Mitt Romney saying he proved his mettle as Massachusetts governor and Rick Santorum saying Romney is so moderate that electing him would be a "hollow victory."
Their speeches to the Conservative Political Action Conference came as Santorum tries to convert his surprising caucus wins this week into a resilient, muscular campaign and Romney seeks to persuade conservatives that he won't disappoint them.
Santorum's tack was unorthodox, and perhaps risky. Facing Republicans who desperately want to replace President Barack Obama, Santorum said it's even more vital to put a conservative crusader into the White House.
"We will no longer abandon and apologize for the policies and principles that made this country great for a hollow victory in November," he said.
If voters see that as a hint that it's more important to be ideologically pure than to oust Obama, Santorum may have to explain more fully in the days ahead.
Romney, speaking a few hours later, said his four-year record in Massachusetts proved that he will fight for conservative values against the toughest odds. "I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism," he said. Veering briefly from his written text, he called himself "severely conservative."
But Romney skated past details of his administration that trouble some right-leaning groups, including requiring state residents to obtain health insurance.
Without saying Romney's name, Santorum said the former governor's health care record would make it impossible for him to draw needed contrasts with Obama. He said Romney had created "the stepchild of Obamacare."
Saying the Obama-backed 2010 health care law "will crush economic freedom," Santorum urged Republicans not to nominate "someone who would simply give that issue away in the fall."
Santorum warned Republicans against a premature emphasis on moderate voters, who could decide the presidential election in swing states.
"We always talk about, `Oh, how are we going to get the moderates?'" Santorum said. "Why would an undecided voter vote for a candidate of a party who the party is not excited about?"
Romney alluded to his rivals obliquely, never saying their names. Presidential leadership "isn't about getting a bill out of subcommittee or giving a speech," he said. "I am the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never worked a day in Washington."
His remarks appeared aimed at former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul, all of whom spent years in Congress. Gingrich was scheduled to address CPAC later Friday. Paul was not scheduled to address the conference.
Romney tried to reassure the audience that antipathy to Obama will energize millions of voters this fall, an indirect way of saying the lukewarm reception he gets from some conservatives isn't crucial.
Obama "is the conservative movement's top recruiter," he said.
Romney said he would cut federal spending like he cut state spending in Massachusetts, although he vowed not to touch military budgets.
"I was a conservative governor," he said. "I fought against long odds in a deep blue state. I understand the battles that we, as conservatives, must fight because I have been on the front lines."
Santorum and Romney criticized the Obama administration's bid to require Catholic-affiliated employers to cover birth control in their health insurance plans. After Santorum's morning speech and before Romney's afternoon address, Obama announced an update. He said religious-affiliated employers will not have to cover birth control for their employees. Instead, the government will demand that insurance companies be directly responsible for providing contraception.
Santorum, a Catholic with a strong record of fighting legalized abortion, said Obama is "telling the Catholic Church that they are forced to pay for things that are against their basic tenets and teachings."
"It's not about contraception, it's about economic liberty," he said.
Romney, a Mormon who once supported legalized abortion, vowed to reverse "every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent life."
His critics cite a 2005 interview in which Romney said rape victims deserved either access to or information about so-called morning after pills that some say are a form of abortion.
Both men restated their standard criticisms of Obama. Romney called him "the poster child for the arrogance of government."
Web Producer: Ken Hines
KENNEDY CENTER HONORS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In the first 35 years of the Kennedy Center Honors, only two Latinos got medals.
QUINCY, Mass. (AP) -- Baby Jesus is missing -- again.
US unemployment falls to 7 pct. on 203K jobs added
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A fourth straight month of solid hiring cut the U.S. unemployment rate to a five-year low of 7 percent in November, an encouraging sign for the economy.
AP Photo NYBZ150
Eds: Updates with more details and background. With AP Photos.
By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy grew at a 3.6 percent annual rate from July through September, the fastest since early 2012. ...
IN THE NEWS: WOMAN MONITORING SCANNER TRAFFIC LIVE-TWEETS HUSBAND'S DEATH
VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) -- A Washington state woman has had a hobby turn into a tragedy.
c2012, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.
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