Philadelphia will be the fulcrum of U.S. politics Thursday - for a few hours, anyway - as both President Obama and Republican front-runner Mitt Romney raise campaign money at separate ticketed events in the city.
Besides tying up traffic, the visits could provide a preview of the 2012 general-election campaign.
Romney planned to drive home his contention that Obama's policies have worsened the recession by also visiting a shuttered Allentown factory the president used in 2009 to tout his $787 billion stimulus legislation.
"The 2012 election is going to be a referendum on the president's failure to turn around the economy," Romney said in a Wednesday interview, adding that Pennsylvania had lost 169,000 jobs since Obama took office. "He's grown detached and isolated from what people are feeling and experiencing."
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and business executive, ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination four years ago, and some conservative activists are leery of his past moderate positions on social issues, as well as the health-care law he signed in Massachusetts that is similar in some respects to Obama's. But with the economy the top campaign issue, Romney's private-sector experience has helped him take the lead in polls of the Republican contest.
Pennsylvania Democratic spokesman Mark Nicastre criticized Massachusetts' economic performance when Romney was governor, saying the state ranked 47th in job growth. "Mitt Romney is simply doubling down on the failed economic policies that nearly brought down our economy," Nicastre said.
Obama is scheduled to appear at a 3:30 p.m. fund-raising reception at the Hyatt at the Bellevue on South Broad Street, then attend a more posh dinner at the Chestnut Hill home of Comcast executive David L. Cohen. Proceeds of both events are to be split between Obama's reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee, through the vehicle of the Obama Victory Fund.
Romney will attend a fund-raising breakfast at 8:30 a.m. at the Cira Centre, hosted by Ira M. Lubert, a private-equity investor in real estate ventures and a major Republican fund-raiser.
At noon, Pasquale "Pat" Deon, a Bucks County businessman, will host a luncheon for Romney at the Union League. Deon is chairman of the SEPTA board and a member of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Thursday will be the first time the president and his potential opponent have been in the same city on the road since Romney announced his candidacy earlier this month.
Attorney Charles Kopp, chairman of Romney's campaign in Pennsylvania, said, "In my view, the Republican primary voters will soon begin to focus on electability rather than philosophy, and when that happens, Mitt Romney will emerge as the party's nominee with an excellent chance to become our next president."
Kopp said the events would raise $400,000 to $500,000 for the Romney campaign.
Tickets for the Obama reception at the Hyatt range from $250 for young professionals and veterans up to $2,500 per person, according to the invitation. Those who raise $10,000 for the cause will get a VIP meet-and-greet with the president and preferred seating for his remarks.
An individual can donate a maximum of $35,800 - couples up to $71,600 - to joint campaign committees such as the Obama Victory Fund. The minimum ticket to the Cohen dinner, according to the invitation, is $10,000 per person.
Couples who donate the maximum or raise at least $100,000 from others will get a VIP session with the president at Cohen's house. Those who donate the individual maximum, or raise $50,000, will be christened event hosts and have premium dinner seating.
Cohen was former Gov. Ed Rendell's political strategist and was chief of staff when Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia in the 1990s. After chairing a politically connected law firm, Cohen was hired as executive vice president of cable giant Comcast.
Romney, after his fund-raising events Thursday, is scheduled to drop by Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies-Red Sox businessperson's special, then travel to Allentown for a 4:10 p.m. news conference to hit Obama on the economy.
Allentown Metal Works, a steel plant, closed Jan. 15, after several years of decline. Obama visited it on Dec. 4, 2009, to highlight how the stimulus was helping put people back to work. At that point, the plant had laid off a third of its workforce.
"And we passed the Recovery Act, which created or saved up to 1.6 million jobs, stopped our free fall, lifted our economy to the point where it's growing for the first time in more than a year," Obama said then. "And I was just talking to the governor before we walked in, and he's got a whole series of charts about how much more steel is produced in Pennsylvania because of the Recovery Act . . . putting people to work doing the work that America needs done."