The skirmishes are over. The battle begins for real today. Mitt Romney and President Obama face off in the first (almost) nose-to-nose of the General Election season -- featuring dueling speeches just minutes apart, over the central issue of the race, in a key swing state.
It could be a defining moment in the presidential race.
It's definitely a test for the president.
He's fighting what has suddenly become -- in a matter of a week -- a come-from-behind battle to cast off the image that he is weak, ineffectual and incapable of leading the nation out of the economic doldrums and to a full recovery.
The White House is calling the president's appearance in Cleveland today as the first major economic speech of the campaign. He aims to paint Romney as an out of touch multi-millionaire who wants to take the country back to the same policies that led to the recession in the first place.
"These problems that we've got, they weren't created overnight, and we never thought they'd be solved overnight. But we understand where we need to go. We understand we've got to keep moving forward. And we understand that the last thing we need is to go back to the very same policies that got us into this mess in the first place," Obama said during a campaign speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
"And let me tell you something: That is all the other side is offering. That's all they're offering. Gov. Romney is a patriotic American, he's got a lovely family and he should be proud of his personal success. But his ideas are just retreads of stuff that we have tried and that have failed. Bill Clinton described it well the other day -- he said, 'They want to do the same thing, just on steroids.' "
Romney, in Cincinnati, is expected to hammer home the theme that the president is an out of touch academic elitist who lacks the business experience to know what it takes to spur growth.
"I think this election is a watershed election, which will determine the relationship between citizen and enterprise and government," Romney said Wednesday in a speech to a group of business leaders.
Thursday, they aim directly at each other.
The place: Ohio. It went Republican in 2004. Obama took it in 2008. It's anybody's guess in 2012.
Today it reflects the nation's turbulent political landscape in many ways.
It suffered immensely in the economic downturn, and still is. But the spillover effect of the bailout that saved Detroit's auto-industry has fueled Ohio's continuing job growth.
Nonetheless, in 2010, Ohio thrashed the Democrats in mid-term elections. They replaced the Democratic governor with a Republican, gave the GOP a decisive U.S. Senate victory, and swept five Democratic representatives in Congress out of office.
And it remains divided between rural conservative and liberal urban strongholds.
The president faces an uphill battle. An ABC/Washington Post poll released Wednesday shows that only 38 percent of independent voters (a crucial segment in an intensely partisan and extremely narrow race) view Obama's economic policies favorably, compared to 54 percent who do not.
Romney, though, is not doing much better. He got favorable ratings from just 35 percent, and 47 percent unfavorable.
Thursday, they'll be doing their best to change that. They'll be speaking in Ohio, but to the nation.
Source: Terra/Carlos Harrison