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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Paul Ryan delivered a scathing criticism of President Barack Obama's stewardship of the nation's economy Monday, arguing that even conservative punching bag Jimmy Carter's presidency was better as Democrats streamed to North Carolina to nominate Obama for a second term.
"The president can say a lot of things and he will," the Republican vice presidential candidate told more than 2,000 supporters in East Carolina University's student recreation center, about 230 miles east of the Democratic National Convention site in Charlotte. "But he can't tell you that you're better off. Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are right now."
The message, comparing today's economic problems with the troubled economic conditions of the Carter administration, is part of a broader GOP strategy to ask voters whether they are better off now than they were four years ago. Polling suggests the criticism may resonate with voters who continue to like Obama personally but are frustrated with the pace of economic recovery two months before Election Day.
Democrats argued that conditions have improved since Obama took office, with both the president and Vice President Joe Biden focusing Monday on the administration's 2009 rescue of U.S. automakers, which GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney opposed at the time. At a union rally in Toledo, Ohio, Obama said the jobs that were preserved help workers enter the middle class while the auto companies symbolize the country's innovative and industrial abilities.
"If that is not worth fighting for, than what is?" he said.
Republicans said Obama was running away from a poor economic record.
"He's run out of ideas," said Ryan. "So that is why he's running a campaign based on envy and division, based on frustration and anger. Hope and change has now become attack and blame."
Before leaving Greenville, Ryan told an overflow crowd of about 700, "After another four years of this, who knows what it'll look like then. We're not going to let that happen."
Positioning themselves to counter the claims Democrats will make during their gathering, about 50 GOP officials gathered in a temporary headquarters just outside the perimeter of the Democratic convention site. Romney's team, backed by the Republican National Committee, will host daily news conferences, release Web videos and feature prime-time speakers including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
"Here in Charlotte, the president is going to be on defense," said Reince Priebus, the GOP chairman, who hosted a Monday news conference to launch his party's "Obama Isn't Working" rapid response center in Charlotte.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio initially was scheduled to visit Charlotte as well, but he likely will not because of a personal conflict, according to a Republican aide.
Romney, meanwhile, will spend much of the week in New Hampshire and Vermont preparing for three fall debates with Obama, the first on Oct. 3.
On Monday Romney relaxed with his wife at their lakeside estate in New Hampshire, taking a midmorning boat ride to fuel his 29-foot Sea Ray and pick up a Sea Doo jet ski that needed repairs.
Ryan will play a more prominent role in day-to-day campaigning during the week. After visiting in North Carolina on Monday, he was scheduled to campaign Tuesday in Ohio and Iowa. Visits to Colorado, California and Washington state also were being planned.
The Romney campaign has distributed fresh talking points to supporters seizing on the idea that Obama has failed to deliver and linking the president to Carter.
One talking point echoes Ryan's comments in Greenville: "Every president since the Great Depression, except Jimmy Carter and President Obama, who asked voters for a second term could look back at the last four years and say: 'You are better off today than you were four years ago.' No president has ever asked to be re-elected with this many Americans out of work."
In the most recent Associated Press-GfK poll, 28 percent said they were better off than four years ago, while 36 percent said they were worse off and 36 percent said they were in about the same financial position.
Another Republican talking point suggests there is only one remedy: "If we want a new direction, we need a new president."
Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.