CLEVELAND -- President Barack Obama cast his re-election race against Republican Mitt Romney as the economic choice of a lifetime Thursday, seeking to stir undecided voters and asking the nation to buy into his vision for four more years or face a return to the recession-era "mistakes of the past."
Said Romney: "Talk is cheap."
From opposite ends of Ohio, a state vital to both, Romney and Obama dueled in economic speeches that set the tone for the final five months of debate. The pitches were the political foes' familiar, fundamentally different takes on how get an economically aching nation moving again.
"That's really what this election is about," Obama said in his most detailed case for a second term. "That's what is at stake right now. Everything else is just noise."
Romney went first from Cincinnati, a Republican stronghold in the state, and he described Obama's administration as the very "enemy" of people who create jobs.
"Look what's happened across this country," Romney said. "If you think things are going swimmingly, if you think the president's right when he said the private sector is doing fine, then he's the guy to vote for." But he questioned why anyone would do that, saying if the job isn't getting done, pick "someone who can do a better job."
The backdrop was Ohio, seen by strategists as a state that could swing the election.
Romney gave what amounted to his standard speech, albeit realigned as a prebuttal as Obama was pulling into his event site at the top of the state.
Given the tight race and the enormous interest in the economy, the two speeches offered anticipation of a big campaign moment, but the substance yielded little new.
This was Obama in professor mode, filling his speech with budget numbers and history and talk of independent analysts. The goal for Obama was not to uncork new proposals but to define a contrast.
In essence, Obama said Romney would gut government and cut taxes for the rich at the expense of everyone else.
Romney said Obama is crushing the free market with regulation.
Obama said, "If you believe this economy grows best when everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules, then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as president."
He made a concerted push for independent and undecided voters by pledging anew to work with anyone "who believes that we're in this together."
Obama spoke for more than 50 minutes, more than doubling Romney's comments, in what his campaign called the first in a series of major economic speeches. The settings also offered different optics.
Romney went coatless with his sleeves rolled up before about 100 people; Obama gave a formal address to 1,500 people.