AMES, Iowa — Seizing on fresh evidence of economic sluggishness, Republican challenger Mitt Romney said Friday that President Barack Obama inherited a bad situation when he took office, then “made the problem worse.”

Obama, meanwhile, looked ahead to the second term he is hoping to win.

Referring to the two top Republicans in Congress, the president said he was prepared to “wash John Boehner’s car” or “walk Mitch McConnell’s dog” if it would help complete an elusive deal to cut future deficits by trillions of dollars.

The campaign rivals faced a common danger as the end of their race came into view — a large and dangerous storm threatening to barrel up the East Coast. Romney and Vice President Joe Biden each canceled planned weekend appearances in Virginia Beach.

Romney was unsparing in his criticism of Obama. “Despite all that he inherited, President Obama did not repair our economy, he did not save Medicare and Social Security, he did not tame the spending and borrowing, he did not reach across the aisle to bring us together.”

“Four years ago America voted for a post-partisan president, but they have seen the most political of presidents, and a Washington in gridlock because of it,” Romney added.

Romney borrowed a theme from Obama’s successful 2008 campaign, saying he and running mate Paul Ryan “can bring real change to this country.” And he tweaked a line that former President Bill Clinton unveiled at this summer’s Democratic National Convention, saying, “This is not the time to double-down on trickle-down government policies that have failed us.”

Democrats delighted in pointing out that Romney spoke outside Kinzler Construction Services, which benefitted from more than $650,000 in stimulus funding from the 2009 package Obama signed into law — and Romney often criticizes.

Romney campaigned in Iowa and Ohio as national polls showed a tight race.Back in the White House after a long day and night and day of campaigning, Obama said he looked forward to trying to reach a deal with congressional Republicans on a sweeping budget deal if he wins re-election. Asked by a radio show host if he would make the first move, the president replied, “I’ve said I’ll do whatever’s required to get this done.

“And I think the key that the American people want right now is for us to tackle some big challenges that we face in a commonsense, balanced, sensible way.”