(Bloomberg News) Lobbyists, special-interest groups and Wall Street typically fill out the villain list for political candidates. Now they have a new foil: Europe.

The threat that the euro region's sovereign debt crisis will stunt the U.S. economic recovery has made the continent a target for the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Romney warns that Obama's policies and spending will "take America on the path to Europe." Obama offers the same caution about Romney's approach, saying the Republican's emphasis on austerity would result in economic stagnation as Europe is experiencing.

"Everyone wants to use Europe for their own domestic purposes right now," said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a research and consulting group in New York.

The political attack carries geopolitical risk for Obama. It may be viewed as criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe's main advocate for austerity and the person Obama needs most as an ally to stem any contagion from the debt crisis. As a candidate who doesn't hold government office, Romney has more flexibility in his political message.

Obama and former President Bill Clinton made numerous references to Europe during joint appearances at three fundraisers in New York on June 4 as they addressed the No. 1 issue in the presidential campaign: the U.S. economy.

Slowing Down

"The situation in Europe is slowing things down," Obama told donors at the New Amsterdam Theatre. At the home of hedge fund executive Marc Lasry, Obama said that Romney and congressional Republicans favored an austerity plan that would "drastically shrink government," hurting job growth and middle-income Americans.

"That is fundamentally different from our experience in growing this economy and creating jobs," Obama said.

Where Obama was subtle, not drawing a direct line between Europe's approach and Romney, Clinton was not.

The former president said Republicans were adopting "the European economy policy."