President Obama's campaign swing through northwest Ohio late last week was likely the first of many visits that he and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, will make to this region before Election Day. Ohio is poised to elect the next president, and the returns from this corner of the state could well determine how the entire state goes in November.
Local voters want to hear the candidates talk about issues ranging from the future of ObamaCare to the strength of the economic recovery to the health of Lake Erie. But nothing is more likely to engage them than the question of which candidate will do more to help create jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, in the region.
The unemployment figures released on Friday did little to strengthen Mr. Obama's case. The U.S. jobless rate stayed stuck at 8.2 percent in June. The economy created 80,000 jobs -- barely half the number needed just to keep pace with workers newly entering the job market.
But as he did last week, the President continues to argue -- often with merit -- that without his policies in such areas as the domestic auto industry, things would be worse. In Ohio, whose economy relies heavily on auto assembly and parts production, the jobless rate has fallen below the national figure.
Mr. Obama told northwest Ohioans -- again -- that much of the region's economic comeback is attributable to his advocacy of the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler after the automakers declared bankruptcy in 2009. Since the car companies emerged from bankruptcy, Chrysler has ramped up hiring at its assembly plant in Toledo, and GM's Ohio operations have rebounded as well. Mr. Romney, who grew up in Michigan, continues to criticize the bailout.
Nor was it an accident that on the eve of the President's visit to the region, the administration told The Blade that it will make a case against China before the World Trade Organization. The White House accuses the Chinese government of imposing illegal import duties on $3.3 billion worth of U.S.-made vehicles, including Toledo-built Jeep Wranglers.
Trade battles always risk getting out of control, especially at a time when communities such as Toledo seek Chinese investment and Beijing is financing much of this country's debt. But the argument that China seeks the benefits of liberal trade while engaging in protectionism at least deserves the WTO's attention.
For its part, Mr. Romney's campaign asserts that Ohio has lost nearly 18,000 manufacturing jobs since Mr. Obama took office. It notes that American manufacturing shrank last month for the first time in three years.
Mr. Romney insists that his business experience demonstrates his ability to expand economic growth, investment, and creation of manufacturing jobs in this country. He vows to be tougher on China than Mr. Obama.
The Obama campaign's criticism that Mr. Romney destroyed American jobs or shipped them overseas when he headed the private equity firm Bain Capital is often overblown. But that assertion, constantly repeated in TV ads, does appear to be gaining assent among swing-state voters, including those in Ohio.
A Quinnipiac University poll of Ohio voters last month suggested that Ohioans are more likely to think a second term for Mr. Obama would be better for their economic futures than the election of Mr. Romney -- a reversal from previous polls. That shift enabled the President to widen his lead over the challenger in Ohio.
When they return to northwest Ohio, it would help if both candidates went beyond exchanging slogans and attaching demeaning labels to each other, and offered comprehensive proposals for job creation. Even so, the differences between the President and Mr. Romney on the issue are becoming clearer.