In recasting the national health care law as a tax, Republican Mitt Romney risks straying from what had been his main focus: the limp economy under President Barack Obama.
"Handling the economy" has been one subject on which the former businessman and Massachusetts governor has held a clear advantage in polls over President Barack Obama.
But that edge may be eroding under the Obama campaign's withering attacks on Romney's activities at private-equity firm Bain Capital, including ads casting him as an "outsourcing pioneer."
Plagued by dismal national economic statistics, the president embarked Thursday on a bus tour of battleground states Ohio and Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt trip with built-in economic overtones.
"My experience has been in saving the American auto industry," he said in Maumee, Ohio, outside Toledo, calling attention to Romney's opposition to Obama's auto-industry bailout.
Romney remained at his lakeside New Hampshire vacation home, a day after saying that he now views the Obama health mandate as a tax — a break with his past views but aligning himself with conservative GOP leaders.
"The majority of the (Supreme) Court said it's a tax, and, therefore, it's a tax," he told CBS News, referring to last week's 5-4 decision upholding the law.
But his comments — and similar ones later at a Fourth of July parade —further blurred the distinction between the health insurance program he instituted in Massachusetts and the national one he opposes.
Also, polls show worries over jobs trouble voters right now more than health care issues.
And while the health care law clearly is unpopular, so is sticking with the status quo.
Both candidates will be closely watching June unemployment figures due out Friday after three months of declines in payroll growth. Obama may talk about the report at a speech in Pittsburgh.
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EDITOR'S NOTE _ With 124 days left until Election Day, here are insights into today's highlights in U.S. politics