Both sought to illustrate what the next four years would be like under their leadership as new polls indicated Obama exceeding 50% support among likely voters in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Those are all swing states that combined will account for nearly a quarter of the electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Surveys suggest that Romney has lost his edge on the economy, the centerpiece of his campaign to highlight slow growth, trade tensions, and stubbornly high unemployment under Obama's leadership.
The economy remains the top issue for Americans as well when it comes to their vote for president, but Romney says he's not worried about the new surveys.
"Polls go up and down, but frankly you're going to see the support that I need to become president on Election Day," Romney said in an interview with CNN National Political Correspondent Jim Acosta.
His campaign pivoted back to the economy on Wednesday after two days of campaign themes centered around foreign policy with tensions over Libya, Iran and Syria dominating headlines as world leaders gathered at the United Nations.
Romney's campaign released a new ad saying Obama's policies aren't working for most Americans and told a crowd near Columbus that there is a right way and a wrong way toward economic progress.
"I know what it takes to get this economy going again. I care about the people of America," Romney said. "And the difference between me and President Obama is I know what to do and I will do what it takes to get this economy going."
At the American Spring Wire plant in Bedford Heights, Romney took a hard line against China over currency manipulation, saying it has pushed U.S. jobs overseas. He said, as president, he would adopt policies favorable to manufacturing in response to lost employment.
Manipulating currency can make doing business overseas cheaper.
"And that is why one thing I will do from day one is label China a currency manipulator. They must not steal jobs in an unfair way."
The Obama administration alleges China has illegally subsidized automotive exports and undercut American suppliers.
Ohio is a manufacturing center for auto parts. Industry research shows that 800,000 jobs in Ohio are tied to the auto industry, which also has railed against Chinese currency policies.
Obama said his opponent's rhetoric on China was disingenuous.
"He says he's gonna take the fight to them, he's going to go after these cheaters, and I've got to admit, that message is better than what he has actually done about this thing," Obama said at Bowling Green State University. "It sounds better than talking about all the years he spent profiting from companies that sent our jobs to China.
The candidates also diverged on tax policy and the deficit.
Obama vs. Romney: How they'd handle the $7 trillion fiscal cliff
Obama said Romney's economic policies - trickle down economics - would not work. Instead, Obama said he wanted to grow the economy "from the middle out," not the top down, to chip away at the budget deficit.
"I want to keep taxes low for middle class families and working class families, but if we want to close the deficit, we have to ask people like me to spend a little bit more," Obama said.
Obama won Ohio by five points in 2008, but the GOP answered back big in the 2010 midterm elections and took back the governor's office and five House seats held by Democrats.
Early voting in Ohio starts on October 2, a day before the first presidential debate in Denver.
As both Romney and Obama campaigned through Ohio, a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times poll indicated the president leading Romney 53%-43% among likely voters in the state.
Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, is crucial to winning the White House. In modern times, no Republican has won the presidency without carrying the state. It put George W. Bush over the top in his 2004 re-election and Obama won it four years ago by five points.
The Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times survey in Florida indicates the president at 53% and Romney at 44%.
Florida is another state that Obama turned from red to blue four years ago. Some partisan polling indicates a closer contest.
In Pennsylvania, the new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times survey puts the president at 54% and the former Massachusetts governor at 42%.
CNN's Kevin Liptak, Ashley Killough, Rachel Streitfeld and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report
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