By KEN THOMAS
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama said Thursday that the 2012 election will be a "fun debate" over two competing visions for the nation, referring to Mitt Romney as the Republican "front-runner" who has backed policies that would undermine middle-class families.
At a fundraiser held at a Washington hotel, Obama told supporters that his administration had spent the past three years "cleaning up after some of that mess, and I don't want to have to do it again." He warned that a budget plan pushed by House Republicans would hurt early childhood education, veterans and road and bridge projects crucial to the nation's economic recovery.
The president told about 250 donors that the House Republican budget was one that "Governor Romney, who is the front-runner on the Republican side, has embraced. He said the budget was marvelous," Obama said. "And when you go through this budget, the vision that it portrays is of an America where everybody is fending for themselves."
Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said in response that Obama was "still pointing fingers instead of talking about his accomplishments. The president who was all about hope and change has now resorted to distortion and fear."
Obama revisited many of the same arguments he made earlier in the week during a speech to newspaper executives, in which he framed the election as a choice between his work to use government to help people prosper and Republicans who would let average Americans struggle while pushing policies that help the wealthy few.
"It's going to be a big debate, and it's going to be a fun debate. Because it's always good to have the truth on your side," Obama said.
Romney, campaigning in Pennsylvania, painted Obama as someone who hasn't spent enough time in the real world to be accountable to the needs of ordinary Americans.
"He's so out of touch with the American people that he doesn't see how many people are struggling amidst his policies," Romney said Wednesday night in Broomall, Pa.
Obama spoke at two fundraisers Thursday that were expected to raise at least $1.4 million. The first, a private reception for 20 supporters who paid $40,000 per person, was held at a hotel near the White House.
Tickets at the larger event at another Washington hotel started at $2,500 per person. Proceeds from both events were going to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee of the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Through the end of February, Obama has raised about $300 million for his re-election campaign and the DNC during the current election cycle.
Associated Press writer Kasie Hunt in Pennsylvania contributed to this report.