LORAIN, Ohio -- The presidential contest heated up in battleground Ohio on Thursday as Republican candidate Mitt Romney used a shuttered wallboard factory to hit back at President Obama one day after the President's visit to the same county.
Standing at a lectern in the center of the dusty and cavernous National Gypsum Co. factory, Mr. Romney charged that the economy has not made a strong enough comeback under President Obama, who was in Elyria the previous day talking about his administration's investments in job training.
Also Thursday, Mr. Romney got the endorsement of Gov. John Kasich, who was not with Mr. Romney but issued a statement. Mr. Romney has been the presumed Republican nominee since last week when his last viable competitor, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, suspended his campaign.
"The progress we've made in Ohio is hampered by a White House that can't make up its mind and which can't set the right course for our economy," Mr. Kasich's statement said. "Mitt Romney's got what it takes to get us back on track, and I look forward to working with him to make his campaign in Ohio and across the country a success."
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern issued a statement that Mr. Romney and Mr. Kasich "stubbornly refuse" to credit President Obama with Ohio's improving economy.
He said that Mr. Romney supported Mr. Kasich's "anti-union" Senate Bill 5 last year that would have undermined collective-bargaining rights but was overturned in a referendum, and then opposed the 2009 bailout of the auto industry.
About 300 people filled up the chairs that were placed in front of the speaker's podium in the empty factory. Behind it was a banner bearing the slogan "Obama Isn't Working."
"Had the President's economic plans worked, it'd be open right now, but it's still empty and it underscores the failure of this President's policies with regards to getting the economy going again," Mr. Romney said in an 18-minute address.
"If you want to know where his vision leads, open your eyes. It leads to lost jobs, lost homes, lost dreams. It's time to end that vision and have a vision about growth and jobs," Mr. Romney said.
He said that the President said at the 2008 Democratic convention that success in his administration would be measured by the ability of more people to get jobs to pay for their mortgages, but that success has not materialized. He said that over the last four years the median family income in America has dropped by 10 percent.
Mr. Romney predicted that Mr. Obama would turn to dividing Americans.
"You will see him attack success day in and day out, and one thing you know if you attack success, you're going to have less of it," Mr. Romney said. "If he remains President, you're going to see more trillion-dollar deficits piling up," Mr. Romney said, adding that Mr. Obama declared the deficit under former President George Bush "un-American."
A day earlier, in criticizing what he saw as Republicans' failure to understand that government should help people succeed, President Obama told a crowd in Elyria that he and his wife, Michelle Obama, were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, but had help getting an education.
Mr. Obama toured the National Gypsum factory in February, 2008, when he was running for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton and was criticizing the loss of nearly 50,000 jobs in Ohio that he blamed on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Before Mr. Romney's rally, Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and other Democrats stood outside the factory and pointed out that it closed during the term of President Bush, and blamed its closing on failed policies that they said Mr. Romney wants to bring back.
"National Gypsum was closed in June, 2008, and much of the reason why is due to the decline in the housing industry," Mr. Ritenauer said. He said the company continued to hold out hope of reopening but said the housing market is still recovering from a crisis caused by bad loans and lax oversight.
"I thought it was a questionable decision on his part in terms of venue," Mr. Ritenauer said. He said he would have liked to show Mr. Romney some of the promising sights in Lorain, including the Republic Steel mill that is undergoing an $85 million investment and will create 449 new jobs.
Mike Gillis, a spokesman for the Ohio AFL-CIO, said, "The housing collapse happened while George Bush was president and happened as a result of financial policies that Romney supports, including further deregulating Wall Street and the financial sector."
Romney volunteer Jim Meck, 72, of Avon Lake, Ohio, said he thinks Mr. Romney will do better in Lorain than 2008 GOP John McCain did in 2008.
"I think he can relate to the general population better than McCain. Hopefully, he'll get out the youth vote," Mr. Meck said. A precinct committeeman, Mr. Meck is a retired chemical engineer with a tire company. He said Mr. Romney's biggest problem will be jealousy among some voters of his wealth.
The best Republicans might hope for in heavily Democratic Lorain County is to at least cut Mr. Obama's victory margin, thereby improving the overall vote in the state, which is considered critical to any candidate winning the presidency.
In 2008, Mr. Obama beat Mr. McCain in Lorain County 59-41 percent in 2008, or 85,276 to 59,068. In 2004, President Bush also lost the county but by a closer margin, 56-44 percent, or 78,970 to 62,203, and went on to win Ohio.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.41.45282 -82.18237
GOP hopeful makes visit to closed Lorain, Ohio, manufacturing plant.