TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Barack Obama's campaign surrogates, a day before Democrats open their national convention, were trying Monday to put their economic message back in positive territory following a weekend of Republican claims that Americans are not better off four years after the president swept into the White House on a message of hope and change.
Obama addresses an auto workers rally in Toledo to mark the Labor Day holiday before getting his first look at the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac in a stricken parish outside New Orleans. He planned to meet emergency personnel who've been laboring since the storm hit last week to restore power and tend to thousands of evacuees from flooded lands.
Romney, meanwhile, said the Labor Day holiday — the symbolic end of the summer vacation season in the United States — marked "another day of worrying" for too many Americans anxious about finding a job.
Polls show the close race between two candidates with polar opposite political philosophies, especially on the economy, depends on who can convince a majority of voters they can lead the U.S. out of the stubborn economic doldrums that persist in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown and the Great Recession.
Those polls show most Americans continue to fault Obama's Republican predecessor George W. Bush as author of the economic malaise. Most Republicans, however, blame Obama for failing to turn things around during his 3 ½ years in the White House.
Romney hit that theme hard in a statement marking Labor Day as "a chance to celebrate the strong American work ethic," adding: "For far too many Americans, today is another day of worrying when their next paycheck will come."
Obama's backers were up early to try a morning do-over of his supporters' less-than-rosy answers Sunday when asked to answer the classic campaign question: Are Americans better off than they were four years ago?
"Absolutely," said Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy campaign manager, speaking on NBC television. "By any measure the country has moved forward over the last four years. It might not be as fast as some people would've hoped. The president agrees with that."
Martin O'Malley, Maryland's Democratic governor, had answered the same question with a "no" on Sunday before turning the blame to Bush. Appearing Monday on CNN, O'Malley tried a more positive turn of phrase, saying, "We are clearly better off as a country because we're now creating jobs rather than losing them. But we have not recovered all that we lost in the Bush recession. That's why we need to continue to move forward" under Obama.
In Colorado on Sunday, Obama warned a college crowd that "the other side is going to spend more money than we've ever seen in our lives, with an avalanche of attack ads and insults and making stuff up, just making stuff up."
"What they're counting on is that you get so discouraged by this, that at a certain point you just say, you know what, I'm going to leave it up to somebody else." Obama did not mention his own side's arsenal of negative advertising.
Romney, meanwhile, was staying largely out of view for a few days, ceding the political attention to his rival and preparing for the October debates as Democratic conventioneers gathered for the opening of their event Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Younger voters gave Obama a big boost four years ago and he can ill afford to see their support drop off in a tight election where the sluggish economy is the dominant issue and an obstacle to many young people coming out of college or trying to afford it.
Obama also defended his signature health care law Sunday, declaring "I like the name" Obamacare despite its Republican origins as an insult.
Republicans have rallied around the idea of repealing the law, although Romney has not laid out a detailed alternative.
Vice President Joe Biden joined the fray, accusing Republicans of seeking to undermine Medicare, the decades-old federal program millions of seniors rely on for health care. "We are for Medicare," he said. "They are for voucher care." That was a reference to a proposal in Congress by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, to offer future retirees the option of buying private health insurance with a government subsidy.
Romney spent Sunday at his New Hampshire vacation home, leaving only to attend church services with his wife, Ann. Aides said he would spend much of the Democrats' convention week preparing for three debates with Obama, beginning on Oct. 3.
At the Democratic convention, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a rising start in the party, delivers the keynote speech on Tuesday, followed by first lady Michelle Obama's remarks. Obama and Biden will be nominated for second terms on Wednesday night, when former President Bill Clinton takes the stage as star speaker. Biden and Obama close the convention Thursday night with their acceptance speeches.
Associated Press writers Steven R. Hurst, Calvin Woodward, Philip Elliott, Michael Biesecker, Mitch Weiss, Beth Fouhy and Ken Thomas contributed to this story.