GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado — Republican Mitt Romney, facing a Democratic assault over his business record and charges he shipped US jobs overseas, went on the offensive by pegging President Barack Obama as "outsourcer-in-chief".
The issue of sending jobs to low-wage nations such as China and India has sharpened into a major point of contention in the White House race, with Romney and Obama accusing each other of enabling and even benefiting from the process.
It's also linked to an election-year clash over US trade policy and in particular Obama's stance on China, which Romney's campaign said has led to the president being "treated like a doormat" by Beijing.
Last week, Obama's campaign released an advertisement claiming Romney "made a fortune" outsourcing US jobs to China while he was at the helm of his private equity firm Bain Capital.
Romney, speaking at a town hall campaign stop in Grand Junction, Colorado, called the ad "false and misleading".
And he turned the tables on Obama for "outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself, by putting money into energy companies, solar and wind energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States."
"If there is an outsourcer-in-chief, it's the president of the United States, not the guy who's running to replace him," Romney said to cheers from some 600 people at a local high school.
Romney had come under fire after reports that Bain Capital was an early pioneer in helping US firms relocate manufacturing positions to low-wage economies overseas.
Obama tapped that vein again Tuesday, telling supporters in Iowa that Romney "has experience owning companies that were called 'pioneers' in the business of outsourcing."
"As long as I'm president, I will keep fighting to make sure jobs are located here in the United States of America," he added.
His campaign eagerly pushed the narrative that the multimillionaire who says he is uniquely qualified to turn around the sluggish US economy has a tarnished business record.
"Mitt Romney not only supported outsourcing as governor, he benefited financially from companies that outsourced at Bain, and he supports giving tax credits to companies that ship jobs overseas," the Obama campaign's traveling press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One.
But The Washington Post reported that the job shift to places like China has continued largely unchecked under Obama, and that critics say he has not done enough to protect American jobs.
The story, citing pro-labor advocate Robert Scott at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, said US-China trade cost about 450,000 American jobs from 2008 to 2010 because of the growth of Chinese exports.
In Colorado, Romney piled on, accusing Obama of being soft on China and saying his and the president's positions on the Asian giant differ dramatically.
"China's been stealing our designs, our patents, our know-how, our brand names," Romney said.
"It's manipulating our currency and the president refuses to recognize that currency manipulation officially."
Washington has launched a series of actions against China as it seeks to cut its huge trade deficit with the world's number two economy, including a US complaint lodged last week with the World Trade Organization over "unfair" Chinese duties on US cars.
But the Post report served as easy ammunition for the Romney campaign, which said Obama "lost all credibility" for failing to live up to his own campaign rhetoric in 2008 when he promised to take the Chinese "to the mat" on currency manipulation.
Obama has "emboldened China to continue cheating the free enterprise system," Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said in a blistering memo.
The president "has little understanding of the international economy and no ability to negotiate effectively. As a result, his promise to 'take them to the mat' has given way to a reality where he is treated like a doormat."
The US trade deficit with China stood at $91.6 billion for the first four months of 2012, according to the US Department of Commerce.
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