The twists and turns of the presidential campaign led President Barack Obama to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday to campaign for his proposal to extend most of the Bush-era tax cuts and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney to Grand Junction, Colo., to take questions from a town hall audience.
A new Washington Post/ABC News national poll showed the two men deadlocked at 47 percent support each, cementing the importance of swing states like Iowa and Colorado. Other new swing-state surveys showed Obama leading Romney 50 percent to 42 percent in Virginia and the two candidates virtually tied in North Carolina.
Romney, during his town hall on Tuesday, continually labeled Obama a "old-style liberal" in an attempt to stem some of the momentum the Democrat's campaign has sought to build based on news reports describing Romney as profiting from outsourcing jobs and criticism he's faced for declining to further disclose his personal finances.
"If there's an outsourcer in chief, it's the president of the United States, not the guy who's running to replace him," Romney said, referring to federal monies sent to renewable energy companies that manufacture components like solar panels in China.
Romney also took aim at the president's proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to all but those making more than $250,000 a year.
"You've got to be careful--when people in Washington say they are lowering taxes, hold onto your wallet," Romney said. "Because in fact he didn't lower taxes for anybody. For some people he announced your taxes are going to stay the same. And then for others, for job creators and small businesses, he announced a massive tax increase."
The former Massachusetts governor said in light of last week's weak job growth report, Obama's proposal is "the sort of thing only an extreme liberal could think of."
"So at the very time the American people are seeing fewer jobs created than we need, the president announces that he's going to make it harder for jobs to be created," Romney said. "I just don't think this president understands how our economy works."
But Obama pressed his case at a campaign event in Iowa, claiming that his proposals seek to strengthen the middle class to grow the sluggish economy.
"All we ask is for our hard work to pay off; for our responsibility to be rewarded," Obama said. "We tried what they're selling and it didn't work."
The president, echoing a theme he's highlighted in other recent campaign stops, knocked Congress for creating a stalemate that's stalling the economy.
"What's holding us back from meeting this challenge is a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views," he said. "This election is about breaking that stalemate."
The president refocused the national debate on tax policy during a speech in Washington on Monday, hoping to pressure Republicans to act. Tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush have been set to expire for some time, though Obama and Democrats had passed extensions on them previously. Now, the president is attempting to draw a line in the sand, saying he is willing to let all the tax cuts expire--impacting all taxpayers--if Republicans won't agree to allow those for the wealthiest Americans to lapse.
Romney and the GOP say this amounts to raising taxes on job creators and small businesses at a time when the economy is still weak, though what they don't mention overtly is that rich individuals also benefit. Obama and the Democrats say the country can't afford to continue giving up the additional revenue that would be gained from allowing some of the cuts to expire. But the onus will be on Congress to act, as the current rates are set to expire at the end of the year and unless common ground is found, the rates will all go up.
The tax debate will likely have an impact on the presidential race when it comes to who is better at selling their message. Polls have shown most Americans are supportive of the president's plan to continue most of the cuts except those at the top, but Republicans have proven adept at painting Obama as an extremist in the past, which could obfuscate the issue.
That also explains why Romney went out of his way in Colorado to label Obama "an extreme liberal."
Obama, meanwhile, repeatedly stresses his common experience with middle-class voters of struggling to make ends meet and being raised by a single mom.
"I promised I would wake up and work as hard as I could, every day, for you," he said. "Because I saw myself in you. I saw my kids in you. I saw my grandparents in your grandparents. I have kept that promise, Iowa."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.