And we're off! Like the starting gunshot during Saturday night's Kentucky Derby, the Obama campaign has signaled that the general election has begun.
In reality, Mitt Romney has been the presumed Republican presidential nominee for weeks and President Barack Obama has been holding private fundraisers and making policy speeches in battleground states for months, but two large Obama rallies Ohio and Virginia this weekend -- as well as Vice President Joe Biden's appearance on NBC's Meet the Press -- form a symbolic kickoff for the presidential race ahead.
We are going to win this thing the old-fashioned way, Obama said to tens of thousands of people at Ohio State University in Columbus Saturday, in a speech that was also live streamed online. Door by door, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood.
While outlining his commitment to the middle class and making America the most prosperous nation on Earth, Obama also drew contrasts between himself and his presumed GOP rival.
Governor Romney is a patriotic American who has raised a wonderful family, and he has much to be proud of. He's run a large financial firm, he's run a state. But I think he has drawn the wrong lessons from those experiences, Obama said to a booing audience. He sincerely believes that if CEOs and wealthy investors like him make money, the rest of us will automatically prosper as well.
Obama also made a similar speech at Virginia Commonwealth University. Both Ohio and Virginia are critical states in winning the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency; in 2008, Obama beat Sen. John McCain in both states by just a few percentage points.
The campaign is still about hope and still about change, but Obama and his aides rolled out a new slogan last week -- Forward -- that he also played up in his Ohio and Virginia speeches.
The Republicans took pre-emptive action against Obama's re-election rallies, selling bumper stickers and planning more paraphernalia with a slogan that mocks the president's 2008 mantra, Hype and Blame. They also mocked Forward with a push in social media and in interviews, saying the president's policies were backwards and bad for the economy.
The April jobs report released Friday morning gave Romney and his allies more ammunition to assail the president on his economic policy. Romney called the fewer-than-expected 115,000 jobs added in April and 8.1 percent unemployment rate terrible and very disappointing and said the only reason why the unemployment rate trickled down from 8.2 percent last month was because people were bailing out of the labor force.
I think the American people know that their lives are not better than they were three and a half years ago, Romney said on Fox and Friends. They know that the president, in his first months in office, said that he would hold unemployment below 8 percent and we've had 38 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent.
Vice President Joe Biden defended the Obama administration from the bleak report on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday morning, a television appearance that meant to further signal Obama's campaign kickoff a day after his big rallies.
It's been steady growth, not enough, Biden told NBC's David Gregory. There's still a lot of people n trouble. But there's no stagnation.
He also used the opportunity to compare Obama to Romney, who he argued. would make the economy worse, not better.
How is he gonna create jobs? Biden said of Romney. He talks about another $2 million in tax cuts for the very wealthy. You're gonna create jobs? Is that how he's gonna do it?
Romney maintains that he strengthened and helped turn around a number of struggling companies while managing Bain Capital -- as well as Massachusetts and the Salt Lake City Olympics -- and vows to do the same for the U.S. economy.
But Romney and Obama have fundamental differences in their strategy to create jobs and make the country more prosperous, which Obama highlighted in his Ohio speech.
He doesn't seem to understand that maximizing profits by whatever means necessary -- whether through layoffs or outsourcing or tax avoidance or union-busting -- might not always be good for the average American or for the American economy, Obama said of Romney.
I don't care how many ways you try to explain it: Corporations aren't people. People are people, he said, referring to Romney's statement in Iowa last August while explaining why he wouldn't raise taxes.