US President Barack Obama has used the first official rally of his re-election bid to brand Republican rival Mitt Romney as a willing rubber-stamp for failed policies championed by extreme House Republicans.
Mr Obama told an enthusiastic crowd in Columbus, Ohio, that America had a tough time rebounding from a deep recession. But he said it has come too far to turn back now.
The noisy rally at a campus basketball arena was the first of two on Saturday for the Democratic incumbent.
Later, he will speak at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Both Ohio and Virginia are seen as critical states to the election outcome.
Mr Obama has raised cash and given campaign-like speeches for months, but today’s rallies are the first events formally organised by his campaign.
Official campaign rallies can free Mr Obama up to take more direct aim at Mr Romney. Until now, he has used Mr Romney's name sparingly, often choosing instead to cloak his criticisms in attacks against generic Republicans.
New job numbers on Friday highlighted the challenge Mr Obama faces. Job growth slumped for a second straight month. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% in April, but largely because more people stopped looking for work and therefore were no longer deemed unemployed.
In the face of continued economic unease, Mr Obama’s campus rallies were intended to recapture some of the youthful, hopeful energy of his 2008 campaign - and target a voting bloc, young people, that was crucial to his victory four years ago.
At Ohio State, Mr Obama was introduced by first lady Michelle Obama, who called her husband an “awesome” president and someone who understands the struggles of average Americans.
The president said those struggles are central to his re-election bid.
“For the last few years, the Republicans who run this Congress have insisted that we go right back to the policies that created this mess,” Mr Obama said, even though Democrats control the Senate.
“But to borrow a line from our friend Bill Clinton, now, their agenda is on steroids.”
Mr Obama listed more top-end tax cuts and cuts to education and the Medicare health care programme for the elderly as among Republican priorities.
“After a long and spirited primary, Republicans in Congress have found a nominee for president who has promised to rubber stamp this agenda if he gets a chance,” he said to jeers from the mostly young crowd. “We cannot give him that chance. Not now. Not with so much at stake.”
Mr Obama said Mr Romney seems to believe if wealthy Americans like him or big corporations get richer, the country will prosper. But he said bigger profits have not led to better jobs, and Mr Romney “doesn’t seem to get that”.
Mr Obama also taunted Mr Romney’s primary season observation that “corporations are people, my friend”.
Mr Obama said: “I don’t care how many ways you try to explain it. Corporations aren’t people. People are people.”
Republicans argue the Obama campaign is not aiming for consistency, but rather struggling to find a comprehensive vision for a second term.
“They have nothing positive to run,” said Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee. “No successful incumbent, no impressive record and no thriving economy.”
Mr Obama chose to hold the rallies in two pivotal states which Mr Romney needs in his column if he hopes to unseat Mr Obama in the November election.
Since 1944, Ohio has voted with the winner in every presidential election except one, in 1960. No Republican has won the White House without taking Ohio. In 2008, Mr Obama reversed decades of Republican dominance in Virginia.
Since then, both Ohio and Virginia have swung back towards the Republicans in statewide elections.
The Romney campaign for the moment seems more focused on uniting a party that just experienced a bitter primary. His aides highlight the need to excite conservative activists, who will drive turnout on election day and handle the lion’s share of the less glamorous tasks needed to run a national campaign.
Mr Romney will deliver a commencement address next week at Liberty University, the evangelical institution founded by the late Rev Jerry Falwell in Lynchburg, Virginia. He will be the first Mormon to speak at a Liberty graduation.