President Obama and Mitt Romney were both in Ohio Thursday, courting voters in the electorally important swing state. No Republican has ever won a presidential election without winning Ohio, a state Obama carried in 2008.
Both candidates focused on America's economy in their speeches, taking hits at the other's economic plans and touting their own.
The President followed his Ohio trip with a visit to New York's Greenwich Village where actor Sarah Jessica Parker and husband Matthew Broderick hosted a $40,000-per-plate fundraiser for the president's campaign. With 50 guests in attendance, the event raised a total of about $2 million. Critics say the high-end fundraiser is problematic for the President, who spent the day in Ohio speaking about the middle class.
Obama Campaign press secretary Ben Labolt tells Soledad on "Starting Point" this morning that the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling "changed the fundraising landscape in this country." He adds, "we need to look for creative ways to get people involved who wouldn't be traditionally involved in politics contributing to the campaign."
See more clips from Soledad O'Brien's interview with Labolt in the videos below. Read the full transcript of the interview after the jump.
OBRIEN: Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. It was interesting to listen to the president's speech, because a lot of his message was trying to connect the policies that Mitt Romney has been talking about to the policies of George Bush. Do you think that's going to be effective and successful in terms of messaging?
BEN LABOLT, OBAMA CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the fact is Mitt Romney's outlined his so-called 59-point economic plan, but there are no points within that plan which would create jobs right now or outline a vision for how we create good-paying middle class jobs in a sustainable way for our economy. Instead, he's proposed $5 trillion tax cuts for the wealthiest that the middle class and seniors would be forced to pay for, and stripping back regulations from banks and polluters and assuming that the market would do the rest.
And the fact is we tried those policies. We passed those tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. They were supposed to unleash growth and job creation, and they didn't. We saw the slowest job growth we've seen in half a century.
So the question is, why would we go back to those same policies that ended up being a house of cards that led to the economic crisis in the first place?
O'BRIEN: You wanted to jump in.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, $5 trillion in tax cuts, I think you're referring to the Ryan budget, which actually has less than actually that over 10 years. It's not that Mitt Romney is proposing $5 trillion in tax cuts. But since we're talking about growth and talking about the economy, and you guys talk about the 1 percent a lot.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Meryl Streep certainly aren't part of the 99 percent. How does President Obama's fundraising at star-studded celebrity homes last night help you guys get your message across?
LABOLT: Well, first of all, I was referring specifically to Governor Romney's tax proposal. But secondly, look, Citizens United changed the fundraising landscape in this country. We now have special interest contributing tens of millions of dollars, unlimited amounts, to try to buy the election for Mitt Romney. And we need to look for creative ways to get people involved who wouldn't be traditionally involved in politics contributing to the campaign. More than 2.2 million Americans have given to this campaign.
But we saw a donor give to Romney's super PAC, or announced that he was giving $10 million this week. So, Citizens United has certainly damaged the campaign finance system. And we're getting as many people involved as possibly to combat against that.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think what we're seeing here is clear from both of the campaigns. Mitt Romney wants this election to be about President Obama. And President Obama wants to make this a choice between the two men.
And as you point out, Soledad, he is attempting to connect Mitt Romney's policies to those of President Bush. So essentially you're choosing between President Obama and Mitt Romney/President Bush. And I have to ask you, Celeste, is that a strategy that you think is going to work to make this a choice the American people have?
CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST, THE TAKEAWAY: Well, at this point, are the American people paying attention to anything? I mean –
LABOLT: Good question.
HEADLEE: Trying to make the thing about economic vision is obviously very good for President Obama and for Mitt Romney to focus on this as a referendum of the last four years is good because the economy is still struggling.
But my question for you, Ben, is during the president's speech, this is first time we heard him talk about the stalemate in Congress and tell voters they had a chance to fix it. How much traction does he get about blaming Congress or even tying Mitt Romney's campaign to the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.?
LABOLT: Well, I don't think this is a matter of blame. The fact is what's going to be on the ballot in November is a choice between two very different economic philosophies. We agree on the need to grow the economy. So the question is, how do we do that?
The president believes that we should build from the middle class out, by investing in things like education and research and development to spur America to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world. That's how to restore economic security for the middle class, which should be the true test of our economy.
Mitt Romney has a different vision. He believes in giving special breaks to those at the top and that they'll trickle down. And that we should strip back regulations. And the market will do the rest.
The problem is we tried those policies before, and you know where we ended up in 2008.
O'BRIEN: So we are hearing Ben really say the vision, right, the messaging is now going to be the tale of two visions.
O'BRIEN: My vision versus his vision. I think we'll hear that from both candidates.
Margaret, I wanted to ask you a question before I get back to Ben. Do you think it's hypocritical to talk about the middle class and helping, you know, on the speech that both men gave, and then go to a big fundraiser? Isn't that just kind of the way it works?
HOOVER: It's not that it's hypocritical, but it's a question of optics. If you're fighting over the middle class and fighting over who has better policies –
O'BRIEN: Which they both are.
HOOVER: Which they both are. Just the punctuation of that evening with the star-studded celebrities, it's an optics question rather than –
HEADLEE: But Romney is talking about Barack Obama being out of touch and then having the announcement that his horse is going to be competing for the Olympics in dressage.
HOOVER: Or goes to a fundraiser with Donald Trump. They both have it. It just seems the day after an economic speech on the middle class.
O'BRIEN: So Mitt Romney said he was going to repeal Obamacare because it hurts growth, and he was citing this Chamber of Commerce poll, and let's play a little chunk of what Mitt Romney said in his speech first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The president said the other day that he didn't know that Obamacare was hard for small business. Oh, really? The Chamber of Commerce carried out a survey, some 1,500 businesses across America - 75 percent of those people surveyed said Obamacare made it less likely for them to hire people. Think of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Very rarely do we cite Chamber of Commerce surveys and polls. What do you take from that message from Mitt Romney about his strategy trying to connect Obamacare and small business?
LABOLT: Well, first of all, I'd have to point out the irony of Mitt Romney saying he wants to kill Obamacare dead on the first day. Six years ago, in Massachusetts, he agreed with the president that we should take on rising health care costs and provide affordable, accessible health care to all Americans. He passed a health care reform plan to do so in Massachusetts, including an individual mandate. Said it should serve as the national model, and it did. It passed Congress, and the president signed it into law. Small businesses have the opportunity to opt out of this.
But, look, if this was, you know, Mitt Romney called the president out of touch on this, we welcome a debate with Mitt Romney over who's out of touch. A candidate who said he liked being able to fire people and just last week said that the solution to our economic challenges was fewer teachers. I don't think most Americans agree with him on that.
CAIN: Hey, Ben, this is Will. I want to challenge you on one thing you said earlier. I have heard this from the Obama campaign several times, that you want to grow the economy from the middle class out. I don't know that that's a fair characterization.
If we look at tax revenues, the vast majority comes from the top 10 percent of incoming earners in our society. So, the question seems to be, not where you grow the economy from, but who invested.
It seems to be your message is, use that income from the top 10 percent and have the government reinvest it towards the middle class, versus a vision from Romney that leaving that in the hands of investors or the wealthy and letting that, yes, trickle down is a better use of capital.
Isn't it a better question of who is going to invest our surpluses?
LABOLT: Well, let's take a look at a few key issues and break it down. On education, for example, the president has doubled funding for college scholarships, provided students with a $10,000 tax credit to pursue higher education. Mitt Romney has told students they should just shop around for cheaper tuition costs or ask their parents for money. Of course, some of their parents may not have the money to offer them.
When it comes to housing, the president has a refinancing plan that has allowed 5 million responsible homeowners who are struggling to pay their bills, many who might have been scammed by mortgage lenders, to refinance their homes.
CAIN: Those are good - Ben, those are good examples.
LABOLT: Just like the foreclosure process hit the bottom so that investors can come in and make a quick buck. So we do believe - I agree with you that we do believe government has a role to play here.
CAIN: And that's the debate. Is that fair? Is that fair how to characterize the debate? Government versus private sector on who's the better investor?
LABOLT: Well, the question is, Romney on tuition, for example, has told students that they are on their own. The president does believe that we should provide students with access to higher education and that the government has a role in helping them to achieve that, because that will help us grow the economy in the long run if we allow America to out-educate the rest of the world and ensure that the next generation has the skills required for the jobs that are available on the market.
O'BRIEN: Ben LaBolt, campaign spokesperson. Thanks, Ben. Nice to see you. Appreciate your time this morning.