President Obama and Mitt Romney Take Campaign to "Education Nation"

Just six weeks before the election, the two presidential candidates spend the day in New York, a non-battleground state. Why? iVillage's Kelly Wallace explains the mystery!

Last time I checked New York was not a battleground state in the 2012 presidential election but you wouldn't know it this day with President Obama and Mitt Romney, 42 days before the election, in the Big Apple. This presented quite a challenge to this iVillage reporter but more on that later!

First, why did the two men vying for the chance to serve as our president for the next four years spend precious time in blue state New York? Three words -- Bill Clinton and education! Let's start with the power of Bill. The former president now wields so much influence in the Democratic party (and with independent voters) that both men made a point of speaking at his annual Clinton Global Initiative, a gathering of world leaders, business execs and innovators focused on the most pressing issues affecting the world.

And while education has not been the most pressing issue in the campaign, both men know it's important to swing voters, especially women who will determine the outcome on Election Day. The president did not appear in person at Education Nation. (He had a pretty good excuse. He was addressing the U.N. General Assembly at the same time!) In a taped interview with TODAY's Savannah Guthrie that was shown to the Education Nation audience, the president took issue with Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans. "They talk a big game about reform but when you actually look at their budgets, they're talking about slashing our investment in education by 20, 25 percent," said the president. "Reform is important and resources are important, and you can't be for one but not be for the other."

Obama, who apparently got into some hot water at home by once revealing that daughter Malia got a "C" on a test, was asked if he ever failed a test. He said, "Oh yes," adding that he was a "mediocre" student. (Why do I find that hard to believe!) He also said Malia and Sasha get much more homework than he ever had. "They seem to be working deep into the night ... I didn't study that hard until the night before an exam," he added, which elicited laughter from the audience.

Mitt Romney appeared live at Education Nation, holding a handheld mic, almost Oprah style, when he first addressed the crowd and said the main factor in changing our schools is not class size or spending per pupil but focusing on our teachers. "I think we know the answer as to what it takes to fix our schools is to invest in great teachers. Teachers are the answer," he said.

On the importance of strong teachers, Romney and the president pretty much see eye to eye. Two of the biggest differences between the two candidates may be over federal funding for school choice and the power of teachers' unions. Romney said he would tie federal funds not to school districts but to individual students so kids could use the money to attend the school of their choice. As for the unions, when he was asked about a poll that showed parents believe reforms, not unions, are holding kids back, Romney said, "I don't believe it for a minute. I know something about polls." He said parents need much more clout in their kids' education and that schools should get grades like they do in Florida. "I can tell you this, Jeb Bush (former Governor of Florida) stood up to the teachers' unions in Florida and that made a difference. And I also believe that (current Education Secretary) Arne Duncan, by standing up for the kids, has made a diffrence."

Asked if he'd consider Duncan, the president's Education Secretary and someone Romney has complimented, for his administration, Romney laughed and said, "I am not putting anybody in my cabinet right now... that's a little presumptious of me."

Now back to that challenge I raised earlier. With both candidates in town speaking at two major events that iVillage had access to, what was I to do! "Mommy, just try your best," I imagined my kids telling me so that's what I did. Since my little one, who just started kindergarten, is still feeling slightly apprehensive, I had to make a choice -- try to get inside CGI (the Clinton Global Initiative) to cover Mitt Romney or do drop-off. Sorry Governor Romney. I had to make a choice.

I then got inside Education Nation for both President Obama's taped remarks and Mitt Romney's live appearance. But when Romney ended just as Obama was to begin at CGI, I knew I wouldn't be covering the president either. Sorry Mr. President.

Do you know that book, If Mom Had Three Arms? Forget three arms. Today I needed two bodies!

Kelly Wallace is chief correspondent of iVillage. You can follow Kelly on Twitter (@kellywallacetv).

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