CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A fired-up President Barack Obama lampooned the just-completed Republican National Convention for taking the country backwards and being better-suited to an era of black-and-white TV as he embarked Saturday on a tour through battleground states in the lead-up to the Democratic National Convention.

His Republican rival, Mitt Romney, looked to capitalize on a newly energized Republican Party fresh from its three-day convention in Tampa, Florida, where a parade of speakers blasted Obama's handling of the economy, which is struggling in the weakest recession recovery of the post-World War II era.

Both candidates were crisscrossing the country as the race entered September, each day adding to the sense of urgency in a presidential contest that has remained tight since Romney sewed up the nomination in April.

The economy has been the top-rated issue in opinion polls all year, and the president is eager to turn the focus onto Romney on that subject.

"Despite all the challenges that we face in this new century, what they offered over those three days was, more often than not, an agenda that was better suited for the last century," Obama said in Urbandale, Iowa.

"It was a rerun. We'd seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV," the president said.

Republicans "will take us backwards," Obama said, to the age of "trickle-down, you're on your own" economics that begin with tax cuts for the rich but tax increases for the middle class.

Romney campaigned in Ohio during the day -- the opening of the college football season -- and proclaimed it was time the country had a winning season after years of a sluggish economy and high unemployment.

Referring to the number of jobless in the country, Romney told his own cheering crowd at Cincinnati's Union Terminal, "If you have a coach that's zero and 23 million, you say it's time to get a new coach."

He also pledged to cut the federal deficit and "get us on track for a balanced budget."

Yet Romney has yet to produce a budget for public inspection. Nor did he mention that, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, his running mate Paul Ryan wrote a plan projecting the deficit would decline each year from 2013 through 2017 but then begin an inexorable rise again. Additionally, the federal debt is projected to rise each year, from a current level of nearly $16 trillion to an estimated $25 trillion at the end of 2022.

Both Romney and Ryan focused their attention on Ohio -- the Wisconsin congressman shook hands with voters and flipped burgers in the parking lot of Ohio Stadium in Columbus before the start of an opening weekend football game between Ohio State and Ryan's alma mater, Miami University of Ohio.

Ohio is a linchpin in Romney's strategy, a recognition that no Republican has won the White House without carrying the Midwestern battleground state. No Democrat has won without winning Ohio since John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Romney and Ryan later Saturday made a joint appearance at a rally in Jacksonville, Florida -- another state that has been pivotal in recent presidential elections.

Obama's trip billed as "The Road to Charlotte" will take him through the battleground states of Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia, four states that he carried in 2008 but remain at the top of Romney's wish list for the Nov. 6 election.

Obama made a brief detour to foreign policy in his speech at his first stop in Iowa.

"Gov. Romney had nothing to say about Afghanistan this week or the plans for the 33,000 troops who will have come home from the war by the end of this month," he said.

The Republican challenger "said ending the war in Iraq was tragic. I said we'd end that war and we did," Obama said.

Romney said late last year, in a veterans' round-table, "The precipitous withdrawal is unfortunate. It's more than unfortunate, I think it's tragic. It puts at risk many of the victories that were hard won by the men and women who served there."

Obama, pointing to successes, declared, "I said we'd take out bin Laden and we did."

His audience cheered the mention of the demise of the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, who was killed in his hideout in Pakistan by U.S. Navy SEALs last year. Obama ordered the raid, and even Republicans credit him for the decision.

Polls make Iowa one of eight or so battleground states where the election is most likely to be decided. The president carried Iowa in 2008, and in an indication of the struggle he now faces, he has been lavishing time on it in recent weeks. He spent three days in August on a bus tour that traversed the state from west to east.

Presidents are not chosen by a nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests, making battleground states --which are neither reliably Republican nor Democratic -- especially important.

Obama spoke Saturday in Urbandale, outside Des Moines, on a sprawling 500-acre (200-hectare) property that serves as a museum of farming history. With barns, American flags and Obama banners all around, the late summer scene offered him the quintessential heartland backdrop. He later spoke at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa.

Following his Iowa stops, Obama was flying to Colorado for a Sunday appearance before college students at the University of Colorado. Obama's schedule for Monday includes an appearance in Toledo, Ohio, before a trip to Louisiana to inspect damage from Hurricane Isaac. Romney visited Louisiana on Friday.

The Democratic convention opens Tuesday at the Time Warner Cable arena with evening speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was named the keynote speaker in a nod to Hispanic voters whom Obama is relying on to carry him to victory in such western states as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

The president will be nominated for a new term on Wednesday, when former President Bill Clinton also will speak. Vice-President Joe Biden delivers his own acceptance speech the same evening.

Obama's prime-time acceptance speech, to be delivered at the outdoor Bank of America Stadium, caps the convention on Thursday night. Aides predict a capacity crowd will hear the speech at the site, which has a capacity of nearly 74,000 for football.

The coming days will crystalize Obama's re-election pitch: an economy built on ending tax cuts for the rich and putting more effort into education, energy, tax reform and debt reduction. He will call Romney a peddler of failed trickle-down ideas that will hurt the middle class and the needy.

The president carried North Carolina in 2008, but the state's unemployment rate is pegged at 9.6 per cent, well higher than the nation's 8.3 per cent and tied with next-door South Carolina for fifth from the bottom.