Obama banks on gathering economic recovery as his ticket to a second term

President's speech strikes campaigning note as ad campaign targets Romney's record

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The Independent US

Converting what was meant to be his main weakness into what may turn out to be his strength Barack Obama is touting the gathering economic recovery in the United States as his ticket to a second term.

It is a potentially risky strategy with the questions still lurking about the durability of the upturn and fast-rising petrol prices also but it is being enthusiastically pursued by Mr Obama in a string of appearances, including one in New Hampshire last night, that increasingly sound more like campaign events than policy speeches.

Fuelling his confidence is a growing body of evidence that the recovery is gaining momentum and in particular that the employment crisis is beginning to abate. New figures yesterday on first time jobless claims showed further improvement. Not hurting the President's mood, meanwhile, is the unruliness of Republican nomination fight.

In New Hampshire, Mr Obama mocked Republican candidates for saying pain at the petrol pump could be ended by more drilling for oil in the US. "This is hard to believe, but some politicians are seeing higher gas prices as a political opportunity," he jibed, adding: "One thing I know about New Hampshire, it's that your political bull detector is pretty sharp. You know we can't just drill our way to lower gas prices."

The primary calendar has given Mr Obama the chance to focus attention on the revived fortunes of the car industry thanks, he argues, to the bailouts he approved and which putative Republican front-runner Mitt Romney opposed.

"I placed my bet on the American worker," he told a United Automobile Worker conference on Tuesday, the same day Michigan, home to the "big three" car companies, was voting.

Yesterday, the political action committee supporting Mr Obama began airing television ads in Ohio assailing Mr Romney for his position on the bailouts. The second largest car-manufacturing state in the country, Ohio will also be the single most important trophy on Super Tuesday next week when ten states vote in the Republican nomination race.

The television spot partly reveals a strategy that assumes Mr Romney will be the nominee. No Republican has won the White House without first winning Ohio. But it may in the meantime have the effect of weakening Mr Romney as he battles his main foe, Rick Santorum, in the Ohio primary. Latest polls continue to show Mr Santorum in the lead , but Larry Sabato, the director of political studies at the University of Virginia, predicted that Mr Romney will "grind out" the state like he did Michigan.

Despite signaling it would like to re-focus on the economy, the Romney camp found itself snared in social and cultural squalls, stirred this time by Republicans in the Senate who yesterday failed to pass a bill to override an Obama measure that requires employers and their insurance companies to provide women with birth control and other natal care. Mr Romney appeared to say to a reporter in Ohio that he did not support his party on the issue. He later backtracked and said he had misunderstood the question.