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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama and Mitt Romney have been trading jabs this week and both sides have been fine-tuning their general election arguments. Romney continued his longstanding attack against the president that Mr. Obama won't be able to turn the economy around.

BLOCK: The Obama campaign, meanwhile, has changed its message. Instead of portraying Romney as a flip-flopper, it's now arguing that the former Massachusetts governor is a man with extreme positions.

NPR's Don Gonyea talked to voters in Ohio to hear what they make of this effort to redefine Romney.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This new tactic from the president's reelection team casts Romney as the heavy, as a man of extreme views. There's reason to do this now, says Grant Neeley, who teaches political science at the University of Dayton.

GRANT NEELEY: Because a lot of the voters haven't paid any attention. If you're a moderate voter, you may not have paid any attention to the Republican nomination process.

GONYEA: And, if a lot of voters don't know much about your opponent, then you tell them. Here are some recent examples, starting with Obama advisor David Axelrod on Romney economic policy.

DAVID AXELROD: Slashing taxes at the top for the very wealthy, cutting Wall Street loose to make its own rules.

GONYEA: And Vice President Biden's take on Romney's foreign policy.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Shout to the world - you're either with us or against us. Lash out first and ask the hard questions later.

GONYEA: And deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter.

STEPHANIE CUTTER: Mitt Romney was the most extreme candidate on immigration in the Republican primary.

GONYEA: For the Obama campaign, it's important not to let Romney downplay, ignore or change things he said during the primaries as he now looks for votes from independents.

I went to Dayton, Ohio for reaction to this new portrayal of Romney. Ohio is, again, a battleground. Mr. Obama carried the state in '08, but it also sealed George W. Bush's reelection in '04.

Forty-two-year-old Jennifer Lenos is a paralegal. She says she's an independent who did not vote for Mr. Obama last time. Here's her take on Romney.

JENNIFER LENOS: I don't think he's a radical conservative. No, not at all.

GONYEA: But she also says she's not sure what to believe about him.

LENOS: I think that he wants to come across as more conservative than perhaps he is. I think he's very savvy and I think that, if he's smart, he will, you know, cast his net pretty wide and try to bring everyone together.

GONYEA: Eighteen-year-old college student, Katie Schwable, is looking forward to her first general election. She was a Santorum supporter. Now, she says she's with Romney.

KATIE SCHWABLE: I'd say he's not as Republican as some of the other candidates, but he's definitely a Republican. I wouldn't consider him a moderate, but I don't think I'd call him an extremist.

GONYEA: Sixty-year-old Phil Dreety works at a downtown Dayton pawnshop. He's a proud Democrat who will proudly vote again for President Obama, but he has some doubts about whether voters will buy the portrayal of Romney as extreme.

PHIL DREETY: I think that's a misconception that they're trying to portray of him because he had been former governor of Massachusetts and, you know, he has the issue with the health care laws there and there's a number of things. You know, he has a solid business background.

GONYEA: Dreety says he sees Romney as a moderate to conservative politician who panders to conservatives.

Sixty-five-year-old Don Little, now retired after a career in the Air Force, is an Obama supporter and volunteer. We talked at Obama 2012 offices in Dayton. At first, he, too, seemed a bit perplexed by the campaign's focus on Romney as an extreme conservative.

DON LITTLE: I think he's not necessarily an extremist, but an opportunist.

GONYEA: But, as the discussion turns to Romney's opposition to federal aid for the auto industry, Little says this...

LITTLE: If I was an auto worker and the way he feels about letting it just go down the drain, I would feel that's an extreme. That's an assault on my lifestyle. That's an assault on my income. That's assault on my family.

GONYEA: Of course, Little's vote isn't one the president needs to worry about, but the Obama campaign is hoping that independent voters will eventually see Romney that same way.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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