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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2011

Romney kicks off '12 Ohio push with factory stop, fund-raisers

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets Sophie Sturges, 4, with neighbor Cheryl Brown, outside Screen Machine Industries in Pataskala, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets Sophie Sturges, 4, with neighbor Cheryl Brown, outside Screen Machine Industries in Pataskala, Ohio.

PATASKALA, Ohio -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney launched the Ohio leg of his 2012 presidential bid Wednesday, using a suburban Columbus factory to make the case that "China cheats" when it comes to trade.

"When people steal what is ours, it makes it very difficult for trade to work for us. For too long, we've let China cheat," he told a crowd of about 200 supporters who braved sweltering heat inside a Screen Machine Industries plant in Pataskala, about 20 miles east of the state capital.

The Ohio event, his first of the campaign, was squeezed between a pair of fund-raisers in Columbus and Cleveland.

The contender for the Republican nomination said President Obama has failed to live up to his campaign promise to take China "to the mat'' on trade. Mr. Romney said China manipulates its currency to inflate the prices of U.S. goods in comparison to domestic products and steals U.S. intellectual property and brand names to sell as its own.

He also challenged Mr. Obama on deficit spending, taxes, and regulation, arguing that together they create uncertainty for business and discourage growth.

"What's happened in the last few years is the introduction of greater and greater uncertainty on top of recession," he said. "As a result, the recession has been made deeper and longer than it should have been. This so-called recovery is extraordinarily anemic."

Mr. Romney is the son of former Michigan Gov. George W. Romney.

He donned safety goggles as he toured the plant, which makes portable equipment for crushing and screening materials for the mining, recycling, and construction industries.

Screen Machine's president, Steven Cohen, appears in a video on Mr. Romney's campaign Web site on the issue of trade with China. The company, which has taken advantage of some economic stimulus grants that had been championed by Mr. Obama, has had some success selling its products in China.

Mitt Romney, left, tours Screen Machine Industries with company President Steven Cohen. The factory makes  equipment for mining, recycling, and construction. Mitt Romney, left, tours Screen Machine Industries with company President Steven Cohen. The factory makes equipment for mining, recycling, and construction.

"Just because we're having some success there doesn't mean it's easy," Mr. Cohen said. "It's a very, very difficult process. It's a lot easier to do business and negotiate in the United States than it is to do business overseas. … Every single policy that occurs in the United States that does not occur in any other country is a disadvantage to American businesses."

During his speech, Mr. Romney briefly touched on the issue of federal spending.

When questioned later by reporters, he declined to take a position specifically on the proposal being pushed by House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) that ties raising the federal debt ceiling strictly to spending cuts.

"My view is we need a president who agrees to cut, cap, and balance the federal budget,'' he said. "That's my position. There are people who are working on a series of negotiations right now. I'm not going to comment on the day-to-day negotiating process.''

Mr. Romney started out in 2006 as the front-runner for the GOP nomination, but he had surrendered that status to Arizona Sen. John McCain by the time attention turned to Ohio. His renewed campaign for the White House in 2012 received a boost Wednesday in the form of an endorsement from former Ohio governor and U.S. senator George Voinovich.

Also on the list of Ohio endorsements released by the campaign were state Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), and Rep. Bruce Goodwin (R., Defiance).

Absent from that list was Gov. John Kasich.

"He'd like to have that," Mr. Kasich said after opening the Ohio State Fair. "Right now, I'm not really engaged in that. I like Romney a lot. The best thing about Mitt Romney is that he's been a problem solver. … He has great experience in job creation. He was a good governor."

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern accused Mr. Romney of paying lip service to manufacturing during his quick trip to the battleground state while opposing Mr. Obama's efforts, such as the bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, to shore up that sector.

"Mitt Romney has two fund-raisers, and Pataskala is a convenient backdrop for earned media between stops …," Mr. Redfern said. "Mitt Romney is treating Ohio as a flyover state where he will collect a few checks, get his name in the newspaper, and move on."

A Quinnipiac Poll released last week had Mr. Obama in a statistical tie with Mr. Romney among registered voters in Ohio, a state deemed critical to the President's re-election chances. Mr. Obama had a four-point lead, within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

The same poll showed exactly half of all registered voters questioned disapproved of Mr. Obama's job performance, up five points since May.

Mr. Redfern dismissed the results of a separate, informal straw poll taken Friday at an Ohio Republican Party dinner in Cleveland in which Mr. Romney garnered the most support, 25 percent of about 600 people in the room.

"That means 75 percent of those attending support Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and the rest," he said. "The candidates thus far on the Republican side don't reflect the values that are important in Ohio and the rest of the country. A commitment to manufacturing that is so vital to Ohio is so desperately needed."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.

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