By Matt Spetalnick
MENTOR, Ohio (Reuters) - President Barack Obama touted his administration's auto industry bailout in the U.S. industrial heartland on Saturday as he launched a final hectic weekend of campaigning in states critical to winning next week's closely fought election.
With just three days left before voters go to the polls, Obama used yet another stop in Ohio, a state that relies heavily on the auto industry, to hammer at Republican challenger Mitt Romney's earlier opposition to the government-orchestrated rescue.
"Look, I understand that Governor Romney's having a hard time here in Ohio because he was against saving the auto industry," he said.
On his final sprint to the finish line, the president kept up his attack on Romney while making his case for a second term.
"Governor Romney, he's a very talented salesman - in this campaign, he has tried to repackage the same policies that didn't work and offer them up as change," the president told cheering supporters in a crowded high school gymnasium. It was his second visit in two days to a state that has become the most heavily contested spot on the electoral map.
"Ohio, we know what change looks like and what he's offering ain't it," he said.
Before heading out of Washington on his latest tour of the Midwest, Obama showed he was keeping a wary eye on the storm-struck Northeast, where millions remained without power and tempers frayed at a lack of fuel. Superstorm Sandy devastated many Atlantic coastline communities in New Jersey and low-lying areas around New York City.
He held a round of talks with his storm-response team and top officials from the affected states and renewed his call for the federal government to cut through red tape to expedite help to stricken areas.
"This continues to be my number-one priority," he said. "There's nothing more important than us getting this right."
The administration on Friday sought to ease the fuel crunch in the Northeast, saying it would provide diesel from national heating oil reserves, and also allowing foreign tankers in the Gulf of Mexico to bring fuel to the region.
But in the final push for votes in Tuesday's election, the economy, the public's overarching concern, remained the centerpiece of the campaign. Obama reminded his audience of how deep an economic hole the country had to climb out of.
"Remember, in 2008, we were in the middle of two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Obama said. "We've made real progress these past four years."
Obama, whose federal rescue of the auto industry has been popular in a state where one in eight jobs is auto industry-related, renewed his condemnation of Romney's recent statement that Chrysler planned to move Jeep production to China.
Chrysler has refuted that, noting it was adding workers to build more Jeeps in Ohio, and the two campaigns have aired advertisements over the issue. Obama has accused Romney, who opposed a government auto bailout, of trying to scare workers in a desperate last-ditch effort to score points in Ohio.
Saturday's whirlwind tour was taking Obama to four states in little more than 12 hours - Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting and writing by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Jackie Frank)