A limping economy will remain front and center for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney as they head into the final weeks of the campaign. Economic misery, in Ohio and across the nation, is far worse than the tepid figures in the latest jobs report and Mr. Obama's declaration of "not good enough" suggest.
Given the President's lackluster economic performance, the Republican alternative deserves a fair hearing. So far, though, Mr. Romney has squandered his opportunity by providing little but distortions about Mr. Obama's record and scanty details of his own economic plan.
Americans hardly need Mr. Romney to remind them that the economy is a national tragedy. They have endured the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, with jobless rates above 8 percent since February, 2009.
The Labor Department says the official unemployment rate dipped in August, from 8.3 to 8.1 percent. But that's only because 368,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force.
The figure of 12.5 million unemployed workers masks even more pain: the 15 percent of the labor force that can get only part-time work, more people working at low-wage jobs, the 40 percent of unemployed Americans who have been without work for at least 27 weeks.
Real U.S. jobless rates are probably near 20 percent. More than 45 million Americans now receive food stamps.
Central to Mr. Romney's plan to revive and re-invent the economy are federal spending cuts, supposedly leading to a balanced budget. But he also pledges to restore cuts in defense spending and to give big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
That doesn't add up, without shredding what's left of the safety net, raising taxes on the middle class, and making fantastic assumptions about economic growth. Nor has Mr. Romney identified the tax breaks he would end. Closing "loopholes" is less appealing if they include mortgage interest deductions or tax exclusions for health insurance.
Mr. Obama argues that the economy, which was bleeding 800,000 jobs a month when he took office, would be in much worse shape without the actions he has taken. His $830 billion stimulus, much of it in working- and middle-class tax cuts, probably kept national unemployment rates 2 percent lower than they would have been otherwise, says Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard.
The federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, which Mr. Romney opposed, helped saved hundreds of thousands of jobs -- notably in Ohio and Michigan --when private financial markets had the shakes. It averted a collapse of the U.S. auto industry that would have disrupted supply chains and likely forestalled such developments as this week's announcement of 1,200 new jobs at Ford Motor Co.'s Flat Rock assembly plant in southeast Michigan.
Mr. Obama also claims that so-called supply-side economics started this mess. Both nominees are appealing to working- and middle-class voters, who continue to lose ground. U.S. workers can't buy things amid depleted savings, falling incomes, and plummeting home values.
Voters will choose who they think will respond better to lingering economic troubles. The President's record leaves him vulnerable, but Mr. Romney's shadowy plan and fanciful promises have yet to provide a satisfactory alternative.