By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, riding a burst of momentum, predicted a major economic speech by President Barack Obama this week will have soaring rhetoric but little substance.
"My own view is that he will speak eloquently but that words are cheap," said Romney.
Obama will make a major speech in Ohio on Thursday as he tries to hold Romney ahead of the November presidential election and defend his handling of the slow economic recovery.
"He is not responsible for whatever improvement we might be seeing. Instead he's responsible for the fact that it has taken so long to see this recovery, and the recovery is so tepid," Romney said."
Enjoying a mini-surge in which he has pulled even with Obama in national opinion polls and has risen in battleground states, Romney relentlessly stayed on his economic message in a speech to a roundtable of business CEOs in Washington.
His ability to keep focused on jobs and growth have helped Romney make up a deficit to Obama.
In his quest for message discipline, Romney has answered few questions from his traveling press corps of late and speaks little about his record as governor of Massachusetts, talking up instead his experience as a private equity executive.
He has said little in recent weeks about thorny foreign policy issues such as Iraq and Afghanistan, commenting instead about the need for more international markets for U.S. exports.
Romney kept the pressure on Obama's economic record on Wednesday, criticizing what he called the most "anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs" administration in modern American history.
The campaign narrative has abruptly changed in recent weeks from one in which Obama was favored to win re-election to one where he is struggling under the weight of troubling economic news. Some of his Democratic allies are fretting that the road he faces now is difficult.
To try to right the ship, Obama is to outline what he calls a stark difference between his vision of economic rebirth and Romney's in a speech in Cleveland, a week after a verbal misstep in which he said the U.S. private sector is "doing fine" when clearly it is not.
Obama will argue that as president Romney would bring back the weak financial regulation and budget-busting tax cuts of the Bush years, according to Democrats familiar with the preparations for the address on Thursday.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday reflected Obama's predicament. His job approval dropped to 47 percent from 50 percent a month ago and Romney pulled nearly even with the Democrat in a matchup with five months to go until the election.
"Now, let me tell you, this election is going to be close, because folks have gone through a tough time," Obama told supporters at a Philadelphia fundraiser on Tuesday night.
Both Romney and Obama head to Ohio on Thursday, a swing state where the November 6 election could be decided and where polls show a close contest between the Republican and the Democratic incumbent.
Romney has the advantage of being a challenger not currently holding a political office. He can issue policy proposals that sound rosy but are untested.
"In another in a long line of ‘major' economic speeches, Mitt Romney made dishonest after dishonest claim about the president's record and failed to offer any new ideas of his own on how to improve the economy and strengthen the middle class," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.
To jumpstart economic growth, Romney said he would cut tax rates, open up federal lands to oil drilling, allow construction of the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Texas, negotiate more international free trade agreements, cut back on burdensome regulations and repeal Obama's healthcare overhaul.
And he had a response to Obama's charge that Romney's policies would bring back "the very policies that got us into this mess."
"The policies have to match the needs of America today. I'm not going back to a prior time. This is a new time," said Romney.
The elections in November will be contested against the backdrop of an economy growing more slowly and creating fewer jobs than thought only a month ago, a Reuters poll of economists suggests on Wednesday.
Economists have reduced their forecasts for jobs growth throughout 2012 and lowered predictions for all of next year too. The economy is expected to expand at only a 2 percent annual rate in the second quarter, according to the poll.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)