By KASIE HUNT
CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday delivered a harsh indictment of President Barack Obama's re-election strategy, accusing the president of running a "campaign of division and anger and hate."
"His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then cobble together 51 percent of the pieces. If an American president wins that way, we all lose," Romney told a crowd of thousands standing outside the Ross County Court House in southern Ohio.
Romney referred to Vice President Joe Biden's remark to a heavily black audience in Virginia that the Republican ticket wanted to put people "back in chains" by repealing Wall Street regulations. Although he didn't cite other examples to support his harsh rhetoric, his campaign pointed to the controversial ad that linked Romney to a steelworker's wife's death from cancer and an Obama spokeswoman's suggestion that Romney might have committed a felony if he didn't tell the truth in federal filings about his activities with his former company.
The formal speech, a finale for a swing-state bus tour that started Saturday in Virginia with Romney's announcement of running mate Paul Ryan, drew immediate criticism from the Obama campaign, with spokesman Ben LaBolt saying that Romney's comments "seemed unhinged."
Romney was looking to refocus on his Democratic opponent after days of defending his new running mate and attempting to present a united front while still distancing himself from the Wisconsin congressman's controversial budget proposal. The presumptive GOP nominee also looked to go on the offensive on Medicare, arguing that Democrats have hurt the safety net program more than he and Ryan would.
Accusing Obama of turning away from hope and change, Romney tried to use Obama's own words against him and said the Democrat was making "a big election about small things," a line Obama used in 2008 to condemn negative attacks.
"His campaign and his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency," Romney said. "This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus amplified the criticism. "This operation is one of the most hateful, divisive operations that we have ever seen in this country. This president has not met the basic promises that he laid out to the American people," Priebus said on Fox News. "He is not a man of his word."
Romney's words echoed themes from the campaign trail, though his rhetoric was considerably harsher than usual. But the tone and setting — he walked onto the stage outside the marble courthouse in Chillicothe to the theme from the movie "Rudy" and delivered his speech as the sun set and thousands cheered — were clearly aimed at elevating the speech above a standard campaign rally.
"America deserves better," Romney said.
He also touched on Medicare, part of a push advisers say is designed to keep the Republicans on the attack instead of defending against the avalanche of Democratic criticism that came in the wake of Ryan joining the ticket.
"It allows us to go on the offense with voters," Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said.
In a new ad, Romney says that he would restore $716 billion in Medicare money that was eliminated as part of Obama's health care overhaul. Ryan would have retained those cuts in his most recent budget proposal.
Romney has countered that his plan differs from Ryan's in some ways.
"The items that we agree on, I think, outweigh any differences there may be. We haven't gone through piece by piece and said, `Oh here's a place where there's a difference,'" Romney told reporters Monday in Miami, the state with the largest population of seniors.
But Romney's aides again made clear Tuesday that Romney has no plans to spell out those differences.
"Romney and Ryan are running on the Romney plan now, so there is no difference in policy," said Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney strategist. "The only difference is between Romney-Ryan and Obama-Biden."
Ryan himself told Fox News on Tuesday, "I joined the Romney ticket."
Democrats were expected to continue tying the Republican ticket to the budget plans that Ryan has championed and that the Republican-led House has passed.
In Ohio, Romney held rallies in coal-rich eastern Ohio, in Zanesville and in Chillicothe, south of Columbus. He appeared with Sen. Rob Portman, who he had seriously considered for vice president, and with Gov. John Kasich.
The three men shared ice cream at Tom's in Zanesville, where Romney ordered his preference — chocolate peanut butter — as well as a flavor called "White House" that the store's employees urged him to try.
"All right, we'll have one White House and one chocolate peanut butter," Romney said. He set his order down on a table before shaking some hands.
When Romney turned back to the table, Kasich had already dug in — to Romney's ice cream
Amused but peeved, Romney exclaimed, "My peanut butter!"