COLUMBUS, Ohio - President Obama kicked off a two-day campaign swing through Ohio and Nevada today by shifting the focus of his attacks from Medicare and taxes to education, slamming the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan plan to cut student aid.
"Whether it's a four-year college [or] a two-year program, higher education is not a luxury, it is an economic necessity that every family in America should be able to afford. And that's what's at stake in this election," the president told supporters.
Obama's education pitch, which he is outlining in visits to two colleges and a high school in critical battleground states, is part of a broader effort to show how the Romney-Ryan budget cuts would negatively impact Americans.
Speaking at Capital University, the president told students heading back to school that his rivals' plan would slash education funding to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, hurting the nation's ability to compete in the global economy.
"It's a vision that says we can't help young people who are trying to make it because we've got to protect the folks who already have made it," the president said to boos from the crowd of 3,000.
Arguing the GOP plan would leave you "on your own," Obama recounted how Romney recommended students "borrow money if you have to from your parents" and "shop around" when asked how he would make college more affordable.
"What Gov. Romney is offering is not an answer," Obama said. "As we're fighting back from the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, you've got a lot of parents who are out there struggling just to make ends meet. And I don't accept the notion that we should deny any child the opportunity to get a higher education."
The president drew stark contrasts with his opponent's wealthy background as he explained how he and his wife understood "first hand" the burden of student loan debt.
"We've been in your shoes," he said. "Neither of us came from wealthy families. Both of us graduated from college and law school with a mountain of debt. When we married, we got poor together."
In response, the Romney campaign slammed the president's track record on education, saying "too many young Americans are suffering from higher college costs, more debt and a lack of good jobs when they graduate."
"Today's policies are just more of the same from a president who hasn't fixed the economy or kept his promises to the young people who supported him four years ago. The Romney-Ryan plan will deliver 12 million new jobs to help recent graduates - and all Americans - enjoy a more prosperous future," a Romney campaign spokeswoman said.
The president also spent time visiting with Ohio students today. Before his speech, Obama made a surprise stop at Sloopy's Diner, a popular Ohio State University hangout, for lunch.
The president ordered a classic Reuben sandwich with potato chips and a piece of Buckeye Pie (peanut butter and chocolate with whipped cream). He also ordered a cheeseburger and fries for aide Marvin Nicholson, according to pool reports, before getting to work greeting students, who head back to class Wednesday.
"The only problem seeing you guys," Obama was overheard saying, was that it reminded him that his own daughter, Malia, would be going to college in a few years.
"Are you ready?" one student asked.
"No," he replied. "I don't want them to leave yet."
The president then worked his way around the restaurant and posed for photos, including one with a group of three students pantomiming O-H-I-O for Ohio State. Obama put his hands up as the letter "I."