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Obama, Romney take message to middle-class voters; Santorum endorses Romney

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama pressed a deadlocked Congress on Tuesday to take action on an election year "to do" list of economic proposals to promote job creation and help families refinance their mortgages.

The list is Obama's latest attempt to portray congressional Republicans as obstructing his economic agenda at a time when millions of Americans are out of work. Obama has sought to tie Mitt Romney to party leaders in Congress, arguing that the likely Republican presidential nominee would simply rubber-stamp their policies.

Romney, meanwhile, was expected to further cement his hold on the Republican nomination in three state primaries Tuesday. The votes in Indiana, West Virginia and North Carolina will add to his delegate count that is still nearly 300 short of the 1,144 needed to seal the nomination at the Republican National Convention in August.

Romney's one-time chief rival, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, whose departure from the race last month confirmed that Romney had the nomination all but in hand, endorsed the former Massachusetts governor Monday in a late-night email to supporters.

As he pressed Congress for action, Obama was also opening a $25 million advertising blitz that confronts claims that the U.S. economic recovery is sputtering under his leadership.

Obama's wish list includes eliminating tax incentives for companies that move jobs overseas and promoting new tax credits for small businesses and for companies to develop clean energy.

Obama is also pressing Congress to pass legislation creating a Veterans Job Corps to help service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan find work as police officers and firefighters.

White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the measures should be able to pass in Congress.

"These are the kinds of initiatives that traditionally enjoy bipartisan support," Carney said. "They're the kinds of initiatives that outside independent economists identified as things that would have an immediate impact on economic growth and job creation."

Obama issued his list during a stop at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York.

Republicans said they had a lengthy list of their own in the form of bills that have cleared the Republican-led House of Representatives but remained bogged down by Senate Democrats. They accused Obama of recycling old ideas.

The Obama advertising campaign highlights jobs being created, the killing of 9-11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and the return of U.S. troops from a lengthy war in Iraq in Obama's first term.

Campaigning in the backyard of America's auto industry, Romney re-ignited the debate over government bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, suggesting he deserves "a lot of credit" for the recent successes of the nation's largest car companies.

He issued the claim despite having argued that the Detroit-based automakers should have gone through bankruptcy without bailout funds.

He told a Cleveland, Ohio, television station on Monday that Obama followed his lead when he ushered auto companies through a managed bankruptcy soon after taking office.

"I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet," Romney said in an interview inside a Cleveland-area auto parts maker. "So, I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back."

Romney has repeatedly argued that Obama ultimately took his advice on the auto industry's woes of 2008 and 2009. But he went further on Monday by saying he deserves credit for its ultimate turnaround.

The course Romney advocated differed greatly from the one that was ultimately taken. GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy on the strength of a massive bailout that Romney opposed. Neither Obama nor Republican President George W. believed the automakers would have survived without that backup from taxpayers.

While in Ohio, Romney also said Obama's policies are squeezing middle-income Americans and that Romney's business background could help jump-start the economy.

"The president and I have fairly different visions for what it'll take to get America working again," Romney said.

The competing economic visions — and the huge Obama investment in TV advertising in nine key states — are shaping a White House race that new surveys suggest is competitive six months before Election Day in November. A poll of voters in a dozen key battleground states by USA Today and Gallup found Obama and Romney essentially even among registered voters — Obama 47 per cent, Romney 45 per cent.

Such states do not historically cast an overwhelming vote for the candidate of one party or the other. Only about 12 states are believed to be in play for both Obama and Romney, and under the U.S. electoral system they will decide the outcome.

The race is playing out in a country in which unemployment is hovering around 8 per cent and where many voters are not feeling the growth that economists insist is occurring.

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