ELYRIA, Ohio - President Obama today touted the success of his job training initiatives for the unemployed, while warning voters that they are in the crosshairs of Republicans' proposed budget cuts.
Obama spoke to a crowd of 400 mostly blue-collar workers and students at Loraine County Community College, in an economically hard-hit town west of Cleveland.
"Investing in a community college, just like investing in a new road or a new highway or broadband lines that go into rural communities, these investments are not part of some grand scheme to redistribute wealth," Obama said. "That's what leads to strong, durable economic growth."
"I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Michelle wasn't. But somebody gave us a chance, just like these folks up here are looking for a chance," he said, drawing polite applause from the swing state crowd.
Then, pivoting to what has become a major theme of his re-election campaign, Obama said Republicans would effectively make many of those taxpayer-supported opportunities for middle-income Americans disappear.
Obama said new tax cuts on upper-income earners proposed by House Republicans and backed by presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney would require steep spending cuts that would "gut investments" in government programs, including aid for job training.
"If these cuts are spread out evenly, then 10 million college students, including some of you, would see your financial aid cut by an average of more than a thousand dollars each," Obama told the crowd.
The White House said federal job training programs have boosted communities like Elyria, which have been hurt by manufacturing job losses in the recession. Lorain County alone lost 11,500 jobs between 2001 and 2010, officials said, with all but 1,000 coming from the manufacturing sector.
Officials touted Lorain County Community College as having a "proven track record of success," using federal funds to help re-train the unemployed to find jobs in new industries and technologies. Ninety percent of the college's students in job re-training programs have found jobs within three months of graduating, according to the White House.
"In this country, prosperity does not trickle down; prosperity grows from the bottom up, and it grows from a strong middle class out," Obama said, underlining a philosophical difference with Republicans which he has accentuated during the campaign. "That's how we grow this economy."
Republicans, who made tax cuts on higher-income earners a cornerstone of their plan to boost job growth, have criticized the community college job training grants for their complexity and the potential for waste and duplication given overlap among federal agencies. They also cite a 2011 report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office that concluded "little is known about the effectiveness" of government-funded job training programs for the unemployed.
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, whose campaign bus appeared outside Obama's event today, will visit the same part of Ohio tomorrow to offer a headline-grabbing rebuttal and explain his economic plan.
The Democratic and Republican events signal a new phase in the battle for November on some of the most hotly-contested turf of the campaign. Media trackers say every general election ad produced this year by the super PACs and candidates' campaigns has already aired in Ohio - and it's only April.