COLUMBUS -- President Barack Obama used two campaign stops in Ohio Wednesday to assail Republican Mitt Romney's economic initiatives, saying the centerpiece of his challenger's proposal could mean thousands of dollars in extra taxes for middle class families.
"He's not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit," the president told a largely supportive crowd of more than 2,000 people gathered in a downtown park in Mansfield. "And he's not asking you to pay more... for our children's education, to rebuild our roads or put our folks back to work. He's asking you to pay more so people like him can (get) a big tax cut."
He added, "We do not need more tax cuts for folks who are already doing really well. We need tax cuts for working Americans... ."
Obama offered the criticism during a speech that lasted about half an hour, then visited a local business before boarding a plane for an appearance in Akron, where he offered comparable criticism of his GOP opponent.
The visit came on the heels of a new Quinnipiac University poll that put him ahead of Romney among likely Ohio voters, 50 percent-44 percent, with a margin of error of about 3 percentage points. There were similar splits in favor of the president among voters surveyed by Quinnipiac in Florida and Pennsylvania.
"The president is running better in the key swing states than he is nationally," Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling institute, said Wednesday in a released statement. "Part of the reason may be that the unemployment rate in Ohio is well below the national average... All this matters because half of all likely voters say the economy is the most important issue to their vote, far ahead of any other issue. The saving grace for Gov. Mitt Romney is that he roughly breaks even with the president on who is best on the economy."
Republicans used Obama's Mansfield stop to spotlight his economic policies and their effects on job creation. Ohio GOP chairman Robert Bennett and others pointed to the National Guard airfield used by the president Wednesday as evidence, saying the operation is to be shut down.
"Punching someone in the stomach and then asking them for lunch money probably won't go over well with people in Mansfield," Bennett said in a released statement. "There are numerous reports on how valuable the C-27J program is in Mansfield, which the president plans to eliminate with irresponsible cuts. Beyond the threat to national security, how does the president fly into Ohio to talk about jobs when he's eliminating 1,000 jobs at the air base he's flying into?"
Obama was introduced by the owner of a longtime local pizza place, who praised the president's work to help small businesses.
"Right now, he's fighting to keep taxes low for the 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses," Brenda Baker said. "He is fighting to prevent a... tax hike of thousands of dollars that could affect millions of Ohio middle class families."
In his criticism of Romney's tax plan, Obama cited a new nonpartisan study from the Tax Policy Center, a joint effort of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, that estimated the GOP proposal would cut taxes for wealthy residents at a cost of more than $2,000 per year for middle class families.
"Folks making $3 million a year or more would get a quarter of a million dollar tax cut," Obama said. "Listen, it gets worse: Under my opponent's plan, who do you think gets the bill for these $250,000 tax cuts? You do."
But the Romney campaign quickly countered such assertions, saying the study was biased and written, in part, by a former Obama staffer.
Policy director Lanhee Chen said in a released statement, "The study analyzes only half of Gov. Romney's tax program, ignoring the reforms that would make America's corporations more competitive by moving from the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world to one that is comparable to our trading partners.
"And the study ignores the positive benefits to economic growth from both the corporate tax plan and the deficit reduction called for in the Romney plan. These glaring gaps invalidate the report's conclusions."