CINCINNATI — President Barack Obama lodged an unfair-trade complaint against China on Monday and immediately used it as a wedge against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Obama told voters in Ohio, where the auto industry is important, of his administration's new push for the World Trade Organization to sanction China for subsidizing exports of vehicles and auto parts — and costing American jobs.
Romney responded quickly and dismissively. Obama "may think that announcing new trade cases less than two months from Election Day will distract from his record, but the American businesses and workers struggling on an uneven playing field know better," the Republican said.
Referring to his own criticism of Obama, he said, "If I'd known all it took to get him to take action was to run an ad citing his inaction on China's cheating, I would have run one long ago."
Romney allies tried to dampen growing complaints that the campaign fumbled opportunities at its August convention, on foreign unrest and, most crucially, on the U.S. economy, which is seen as Obama's weakest point.
Campaign adviser Ed Gillespie, in a conference call with reporters, said voters want more details about Romney's tax and spending proposals, and he promised they will come. "We're not rolling out new policies," Gillespie said, but the campaign wants people to "understand when we say we can do these things, here's how we're going to get them done, and these are the specifics."
Obama, however, continued to taunt Romney for gaps in his deficit-cutting promises. It wasn't immediately clear when Romney might start offering more specifics.
Deficit hawks have long urged politicians of all stripes to tell voters the painful truth that services must be cut and/or taxes must be raised to slow federal deficit spending.
Romney addressed another sensitive area Monday, immigration, in his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.
He pledged to work with both parties to "permanently fix our immigration system." He said a fair and efficient system would never be achieved "if we do not first get control of our borders."
The careful language underscored the fine line Romney must walk between appealing to Latino voters and angering conservatives who oppose proposals for pathways to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
Republican activists have watched with growing concern as opinion polls suggest Obama has opened a small lead over Romney since the parties' late-summer conventions. Some conservative writers have complained for months that Romney needs to put more details behind his pledges to tame the deficit while also preserving all tax cuts and expanding military spending.
On Sunday, POLITICO reported significant tension and disarray in the Romney campaign. Particularly chaotic, according to the account, were efforts to draft Romney's acceptance speech at the Tampa convention. The speech drew lackluster reviews in general, and rebukes from some for making no mention of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Romney played down the reports in an interview with Telemundo. "I've got a terrific campaign," he said. "My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them."