WASHINGTON — Appealing to rust belt voters, President Barack Obama announced a new trade enforcement action against China on Monday. Republican challenger Mitt Romney shook up his campaign strategy in an effort to stop momentum from shifting to the incumbent.
Romney's change in strategy comes as Republicans openly fret about the state of their nominee's campaign and press him to give voters a clearer sense of how he would govern. Former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, who is taking an elevated role in shaping a new message, says Romney will be offering more specifics on how he would lead the country out of what he calls a failed status quo under Obama's leadership.
"We are very much looking forward to talking about the future proposals and how the future will be better under a Romney-Ryan administration than the last four years," Gillespie told reporters in a conference call.
One recent line of criticism from Romney appears to have brought a quick response from Obama, with the White House announcing a move to stop Chinese subsidies of its auto industry — four days after Romney launched an advertising campaign accusing the president of allowing American manufacturing jobs to be lost to the Asian power.
The issue hits home among working class voters in manufacturing swing states such as Ohio, where Obama has gained recently in polls and was touting his new action Monday at stops in Cincinnati and Columbus. The White House says more than 850,000 jobs in the state are related to the auto industry.
In excerpts prepared for delivery and released by his campaign, Obama said his administration has brought more trade cases against China in one term than President George W. Bush did in two and accused Romney of outsourcing jobs to China while running the private equity firm Bain Capital.
"Ohio, you can't stand up to China when all you've done is send them our jobs," Obama said. "You can talk a good game, or you can play one. And my experience has been waking up every single day doing everything I can to give American workers a fair shot in the global economy."
Romney responded in a statement accusing Obama of ignoring China for too long. The Republican promised to take actions from his first day in office to help U.S. businesses compete.
"Campaign-season trade cases may sound good on the stump, but it is too little, too late for American businesses and middle class families," Romney said. "President Obama's credibility on this issue has long since vanished."
Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it takes "a special kind of chutzpah" for Romney to criticize Obama on China with his record at Bain.
Opinion polls since the political conventions show not only that Obama is leading in the key swing states, but a recent national poll shows he has taken over Romney's long-standing advantage on the question of whom voters view as most likely to restore the economy and create jobs. Still, the overall race remains narrowly divided.
Romney on Monday was targeting his economic message to Hispanics, a key voting bloc with whom Obama enjoys an advantage. The Obama campaign released an online video riffing on the "Extreme Makeover" television show, mocking Romney for trying to win over Hispanics even though the Obama campaign says the Republican wants to cut education and health care programs that would help them.
"Many Hispanics have sacrificed greatly to help build our country and our economy, and to leave for their children a brighter future," Romney said in excerpts released before his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. "Today, those sacrifices are being squandered by a president who cannot stop spending."
Romney said his test on federal spending would be whether a program is "so critical that it is worth borrowing money from China to pay for it."
The office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced Monday it has asked the World Trade Organization to intervene with China over illegal subsidies of exports in their autos and auto parts sectors. The U.S. says the practice puts American parts manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage and encourages the outsourcing of production to China.
Jobs in the U.S. auto parts sector dropped by roughly half between 2001 and 2010, while U.S. imports of auto parts from China have increased seven-fold, according to the Obama administration.
The administration is also escalating another case it brought against China at the WTO in July that accuses China of imposing unfair duties on more than $3 billion in exports of U.S. autos. The duties cover more than 80 percent of American auto exports to China, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss publicly details of the trade action before the president announces it.
The cases stem from the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center Obama set up earlier this year to target unfair practices around the world, particularly in China.
Obama and Romney began trading barbs on China late last week.
Romney released a television advertisement Thursday accusing Obama of "failing American workers" and ignoring unfair trade practices by China. In his weekly podcast Saturday Romney said that "in 2008, candidate Obama promised to take China 'to the mat.' But since then, he's let China run all over us."
Obama countered with a TV spot focused on its claims that Romney outsourced jobs to China while working in the private sector. His campaign also released a new Web video Saturday in which Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney holds investments in Chinese companies.
Romney's campaign piled on Monday with two new spots: one outlining his plan for job creation and the other assailing Obama for a growing national debt.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Los Angeles, Kasie Hunt in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Iowa contributed to this report.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC