US President Barack Obama is plotting to transform his pitch to voters for the next debate with Mitt Romney who has seized upon his administration delaying action on Chinese trade practices until after the election.
The Republican nominee, fresh from slating Obama over the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, opened another foreign policy row this weekend, over China, accusing the president of standing by as "cheating" Beijing manipulates its currency.
Shell-shocked Democrats want a more feisty and dynamic Obama to show up at the second debate at Hofstra University in New York, after the president's meek effort sent his poll numbers tumbling. To prepare, the president was cramming at the picturesque Kingsmill golf resort outside the historic colonial town of Williamsburg in the heart of Virginia, a state that could help Obama claim a second White House term.
Obama huddled with senior aides and was taking on Senator John Kerry, who is playing Romney, in a series of mock debates.
Tomorrow's town-hall style debate (at Wednesday 9am HK time) at the university in Hempstead will have an audience of about 80 undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organisation. Moderator Candy Crowley of CNN will select questions submitted by the audience. The final debate, covering foreign policy, will be October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.
On Saturday, Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan focused on rallying supporters in the pivotal state of Ohio, accusing Obama of failing to "stand up to China" after the US Treasury put off releasing a politically sensitive report on the currency policies of major US trading partners.
The Treasury on Friday said it would delay a semi-annual currency report until after a meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers in Mexico on November 4, which makes it unlikely the report will be released before the American presidential election on November 6.
Past reports have repeatedly singled out China for not allowing its currency to appreciate more rapidly, but the Obama administration and the previous Bush administration have stopped short of labeling China a currency manipulator,
"Over the past several years the president has failed to call China a currency manipulator," Romney said. "He had the occasion on Friday to come out with that official designation. You know what they said? 'We're not going to make any determination until after the election.'"
"On day one of my administration I will label China a currency manipulator. It's time for us to stand up to China for their cheating. It's got to stop."
Ohio is crucial for Romney because his path to winning the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to win the election is far narrower if he can't win Ohio. Losing here would mean he'd have to win almost all of the other up-for-grabs battleground states. No Republican candidate has won the presidency without taking Ohio.
Ryan, too, faulted Obama for failing to address trade problems with China and said the president had led the country toward a higher national debt, steeper taxes and insufficient job growth.
"We can't keep going down this path," he said. "We can't keep accepting this is the new normal."
The Obama campaign dismissed the Republicans' talk on China as nothing more than talk.
"Mitt Romney will never crack down on China's cheating - just look at his record," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said. He said Romney had opposed Obama administration efforts to impose tariffs on Chinese-made tyres and had invested in companies that shipped American jobs to China.
Obama has criticised Romney for "talking tough" on China, while his previous job at Bain Capital sometimes cut US jobs or sent them overseas.
Romney supporter Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, a director of the US-China Business Council, predicted Romney would reverse his firm stance on China if he were elected. "It's common sense, and I think he has common sense," Greenberg said.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Bloomberg