WASHINGTON (AP) — Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over energy policy Tuesday, with the president mocking his opponent's stand on wind power and the Republican challenger accusing the incumbent of waging a "war on coal."
While veering slightly from the routine charge and counter-charge over the economy, the opposing camps did not let the issue drop.
A new Obama television ad and Vice President Joe Biden assailed Republican budget plans to overhaul Medicare, the federal health care program that benefits the elderly, and cut trillions of dollars from domestic programs including education and lower taxes on high income taxpayers. The Romney camp replied with their own television commercial casting Obama as a danger to the well-being of senior citizens.
In Iowa, a center of wind energy production in the United States, Obama noted that Romney once dismissed wind power saying "you can't drive a car with a windmill on it."
"I don't know if he's actually tried that. I know he's had other things on his car," Obama joked, referring to the often-repeated tale of a Romney family road trip with their dog, Seamus, in a carrier strapped to the roof of the car.
"But if he wants to learn something about wind, all he's got to do is pay attention to what you've been doing here in Iowa."
Romney, campaigning in coal-rich eastern Ohio, said Obama was misleading Ohio voters by claiming new jobs in coal producing regions. The former Massachusetts governor then promised to make the U.S. independent of imported oil in eight years.
"By the end of my second term, I'll make this commitment: We will have American, we will have North American energy independence," Romney said at a coal mine. "We won't have to buy oil from Venezuela and the Middle East. We're going to be independent."
Standing not far from a bulldozer filled with coal and hung with a sign that read, "Coal Country Stands With Mitt," Romney accused Obama of lying to voters in this coal-rich region.
He says Obama is running an ad in eastern Ohio that the owner of the mine had shown him as they drove from West Virginia into Ohio.
"He (Obama) talks about how wonderful it is and how we're adding jobs in the coal industry and adding more coal. I thought, you know, how in the world can you go out there and just tell people things that aren't true. This is a time for truth. If you don't believe in coal, if you don't believe in energy independence, then say it," Romney said.
The energy fight played amid the different interests of the two candidates' respective audiences.
The federal government says between 6,000 and 7,000 jobs in Iowa are related to the wind industry and that the state gets about 20 percent of its electricity from wind.
In a bipartisan vote last week, the Senate's tax-writing committee agreed to renew dozens of tax breaks for businesses like biodiesel and wind energy producers, provisions opposed by many conservatives but that also have critical support from some powerful Republicans.
"Unlike my opponent, I want to stop giving $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies each year to big oil companies that have rarely been more profitable, and keep investing in homegrown energy sources like wind that have never been more promising," Obama told a crowd of about 850 people in Oskaloosa, where stacked hay and an old red pickup truck provided the requisite rural backdrop.
Romney has opposed extending the alternative energy credits, despite support from important Republican figures in Iowa, including the governor and a senator. That may give Obama the chance to create a local wedge issue to appeal to unaligned voters.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the Republican candidate would boost the wind industry by "promoting policies that remove regulatory barriers, support free enterprise and market-based competition, and reward technological innovation." In the coal regions of eastern Ohio, the Obama administration is blamed for pushing ahead with regulations on new power plants that make it harder to build new coal-fired plants that have hurt places like Beallsville.
The presidential contest moved across five swing states Tuesday, as both campaigns operated on full strength for a second day.
Romney was on his final day of a multistate bus tour. Running mate Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, was dispatched to court voters and donors in Colorado and Nevada.
Vice President Joe Biden kept up his criticism of the Republican ticket and their support for a House Republican budget plan, telling supporters in rural southern Virginia Tuesday that Romney and Ryan are "good men" but with "fundamentally flawed judgment."
Biden prompted a Republican backlash when he told his audience that the Republican ticket and party lawmakers would put them "back in chains" by getting rid of regulations on financial institutions that Obama signed into law. Said Biden: "Unchain Wall Street. They're going to put y'all back in chains."
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Biden's comments are, "not acceptable in our political discourse" and a "new low."
An Obama campaign official said it was clear that Biden was talking about the risks of letting Wall Street operate without strong oversight. The campaign subsequently issued a statement calling the Romney camp's outrage "hypocritical, particularly in light of their own candidate's stump speech questioning the President's patriotism. Now, let's return to that 'substantive' debate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan promised 72 hours ago, but quickly abandoned."
Meanwhile, Ryan promoted Romney's "all-of-the-above" energy approach during his event in Lakewood, Colorado, before heading to Las Vegas to highlight Obama's response to the state home foreclosure crisis. The congressman is also expected to attend a private fundraiser with conservative mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Kasie Hunt, Matthew Daly, Jim Kuhnhenn and Steven R. Hurst contributed.