Obama versus Romney in Ohio showdown

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In what was the closest thing to a Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama presidential debate to date, the two candidates squared off — albeit nearly 500 kilometres apart — in Ohio Thursday.

And Obama said the two men agree on one thing at least: this election is all about the economy.

Romney’s message to supporters at a factory in Cincinnati was that Obama’s policies have stifled the economic recovery and hurt small businesses, and that Obama doesn’t understand the private sector.

"The policies the president put in place did not make America create more jobs. As a matter of fact, he made it harder for America to create more jobs," Romney said. "Almost everything the president has done has made it harder for entrepreneurs to start a business."

He also blasted Obama for hindering domestic energy production, which in turn has driven up the costs of doing business, and pledged to approve the Keystone XL pipeline if he wins in November.

"I can guarantee you, if I’m president, on day one we’re going to get the approval for that pipeline from Canada," he said. "And if I have to build it myself to get it here, I’ll get that oil into America."

In Cleveland, Obama spelled out in great detail the problems of the recession he inherited from former president George W. Bush, and largely shied away from defending the economic policies he’s implemented so far — something he was told to do recently by former Bill Clinton aides who cautioned Americans don’t believe those policies have worked.

And Obama accused Romney of promoting the same economic vision that Democrats blame for creating the recession in the first place: lower taxes for wealthy people, and fewer regulations on banks and corporations.

"Remember that the economic vision of Mr. Romney and his allies in Congress was tested just a few years ago. We tried this," Obama told students and supporters at a community college in Cleveland.

"Their policies did not grow the economy, they did not grow the middle-class, they did not reduce our debt. Why would we think it would work better this time?

"We can’t afford to jeopardize our future by repeating the mistakes of the past. Not now, not when there’s so much at stake."

Thursday was the first time both Romney and Obama have held campaign speeches in the same state on the same day, offering a glimpse into the fight to come as the election heats up ahead of the November vote.

Ohio is seen as the key battleground state, since no one in the past 50 years has won the White House without also carrying the Buckeye State and its 18 electoral college votes.

Obama launched his re-election campaign in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this year and Romney was expected to visit several cities in the state over the next few days as part of his swing state bus tour.