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Romney, Obama both seek edge with voters on issue of economy

Stunts, stagecraft, scripts -- and a touch of the surreal -- shaped the presidential campaign Thursday as Mitt Romney and President Obama sought an edge on voters' No. 1 issue, the economy.

On one coast, Romney made a surprise trip to the former California headquarters of solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra to accuse Obama of currying favor with campaign supporters by giving a federal loan to the green energy company that later went bankrupt.

"This half-a-billion-dollar taxpayer investment represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team," the Republican presidential candidate said as he stood outside the shuttered company and held it up as Exhibit A of presidential missteps on the economy.

At roughly the same time across the country in Boston, Obama's campaign staged an event outside Massachusetts' Statehouse to argue that Romney's record as governor from 2003 to 2007 proves he is ill-prepared to manage the nation's economy.

"Romney economics didn't work then and it won't work now," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said at a news conference, citing a poor record of job creation, increased fees and the addition of $2.6 billion to the state's debt on Romney's watch.

Axelrod's appearance attracted several dozen Romney supporters, including many who chanted "Where are the jobs?" and held signs that said "Obama isn't working."

The competing events, complete with rival Web videos and frenzied backers, made for an oddball day on the campaign trail and showed the degree to which Obama's and Romney's teams are trying to undercut each other's economic credentials during the nation's slow-moving recovery, the top issue for voters.

Solyndra has emerged as a vulnerability for Obama because the company received $535 million in loan guarantees from Obama's Energy Department in 2009 only to go bankrupt two years later, sparking an ongoing investigation.

Republicans have been assailing Obama on Solyndra for months, partly by pointing to the connection between Obama fundraisers and the company while arguing that the president used government policies to benefit campaign supporters.

Steve Spinner, a former Energy Department official, raised at least $500,000 for Obama's campaign. Emails released earlier by congressional investigators show that Spinner was actively involved in the Solyndra loan despite pledging to step aside because his wife's law firm represented the company. One of Solyndra's investors was the foundation of George Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire who has supported Obama.

Kaiser has said he was not active in helping Solyndra receive the loan. White House records show that Kaiser was a frequent visitor to the White House. He has said he did not discuss Solyndra on those visits, although the company's name did come up at least once during one of those visits.

The administration says the loan was awarded on the merits and that extensive GOP efforts have failed to turn up a "smoking gun."