Romney has pinned his campaign on the argument that Obama has failed to adequately juice up the U.S. economy, but his challenge is reflected in recent polls showing growing public optimism about the economy and the president's leadership. His case got tougher after a secret video revealed Romney telling donors that it's not his job to care about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes and believe they are victims.
Romney tried to address accusations that he doesn't care about those voters with a new ad Wednesday in which the casually dressed candidate looks at the camera and acknowledges the struggles of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. "We should measure our compassion by how many of our fellow Americans are able to get good-paying jobs, not how many are on welfare. My economic plan will get America back to work and strengthen the middle class," he says.
Republicans tried to frame the economic debate in their terms Tuesday by pointing to the vice president's comments in North Carolina about the beleaguered middle class as an unwitting acknowledgment that Obama's economic policies have devastated average Americans.
"We agree," GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan declared in Iowa. "That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States."
Obama's camp countered that it was the policies of the president's Republican predecessors that had caused the damage.
Biden, at a later campaign event, was careful to say that "the middle class was buried by the policies that Romney and Ryan supported," calling their economic plans an amped-up rework of those from the George W. Bush years.
Romney calls Wednesday's debate the beginning of a monthlong "conversation with the American people," and the debates do tend to consume much of the political oxygen for several crucial weeks.