CHILLICOTHE, Ohio -- A fired-up Mitt Romney came out swinging Tuesday against President Obama, accusing him of demeaning the presidency with campaign tactics that divide Americans.
The Obama campaign shot back that the Republican candidate appeared to be "unhinged."
"Take your campaign of division, anger, and hate back to Chicago, and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America," Mr. Romney told an exuberant crowd of several thousand in Chillicothe as he sought to focus debate on the economy.
The rally capped a four-state bus tour that ended with a swing through eastern and southern Ohio, stopping near Beallsville and in Cambridge, Zanesville, and Chillicothe.
Early in the day near Beallsville, he appealed directly to eastern Ohio coal miners by blasting the President's energy and environmental policies, accusing him of sacrificing jobs mining fossil fuels from beneath the Earth for windmills and solar panels above the surface.
With polls showing Mr. Obama leading in Ohio, Mr. Romney ended the day on the steps of the Ross County Courthouse, speaking to middle-class problems.
"The cost of living keeps going up, and they're living paycheck to paycheck," Mr. Romney said. "They are tired of being tired, and tonight I'd like to say to each of them: You have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind. This is America. We are Americans. It doesn't have to be this way."
While the emphasis was on coal in Beallsville, it was all economy, Medicare, and campaign tactics for the rest of the trip.
Mr. Obama's "campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51 percent of the pieces," Mr. Romney said in Chillicothe. "If an American president wins that way, we would all lose. But he won't win that way. America is one nation under God."
Without repeating the words, Mr. Romney cited a comment earlier in the day in Virginia by Vice President Joe Biden, who argued that Mr. Romney's plan to roll back financial-industry regulations would put people back in "chains."
Accompanied by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), Mr. Romney didn't say much new in the trip's final speech, but he delivered it with a fire absent from his earlier appearances in Ohio.
The presumed Republican nominee again accused Mr. Obama of planning to cut $716 billion from the Medicare budget to help pay for his health-care reform program, pushing back at a time when the Obama campaign is attacking a Medicare overhaul included in the House of Representatives-passed budget authored by Mr. Romney's running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.).
Senator Portman, who accompanied Mr. Romney the entire day, praised the candidate's selection of a running mate -- a position for which Mr. Portman had been a finalist.
"Paul is smart," the senator said. "He's articulate. He has a vision for America. He's also a Midwesterner, who shares our values."
Mr. Romney also made passing references to Mr. Ryan, who is expected to visit his alma mater, Miami University, in Oxford today.
In Beallsville, Mr. Romney stood with miners in hard hats, their faces smudged with soot, outside a minehead as he accused the President of "waging war" on coal.
"By the end of my second term -- hopefully, I get that first and second term -- we will have North American energy independence," he said. "We won't have to buy oil from Venezuela or the Middle East."
"Governor Romney's comments tonight [Tuesday] seemed unhinged and particularly strange coming at a time when he's pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false," said Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign's press secretary.
Coal's vitality to the Beallsville area is manifest in signs dotting rural roads: "Stop the war on coal. Fire Obama."
Southeast Ohio has a love-hate relationship with the mining industry, balancing thousands of jobs against environmental concerns.
Ohio Valley Coal Co., a corporate sister to American Energy, recently pleaded guilty to water-pollution charges stemming from a coal-slurry pipeline rupture that polluted Captina Creek near Beallsville, and is proposed to pay $587,000 in fines and restitution along with more than $6 million it has spent on pipeline safety upgrades.
Another Murray Energy subsidiary in nearby Brilliant, Ohio, has blamed federal regulation for its plans to close a coal mine there.
Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, the Republican challenger to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), cranked the coal rhetoric up a notch.
"These people who are out of touch with Ohio, Barack Obama and Sherrod Brown, have waged a war on coal," he told the crowd. "They think coal is a four-letter word. I'll tell you this afternoon, for any of these folks trying to stand between us and reliable, dependable, affordable energy, we have four words for them: Over our dead bodies."
On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama has spoken little about coal beyond mentioning use of cleaner coal as part of an all-of-the-above energy policy. Coal provides about 80 percent of Ohio's electricity generation.
"Only one candidate in this race actually has a record of finding a clean future for coal, and that's President Obama," spokesman Lis Smith said. "President Obama has increased investments in the research and development of clean-coal technology and employment in the mining industry hit a 15-year high in 2011.
"This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, spoke out against coal jobs and said that a coal-fired plant 'kills people,' " she said. "This is just another issue where Mitt Romney is not being honest with the American people."
Shawn Schoolcraft, of St. Clairsville, has worked for two years at the American Energy deep mine.
Mr. Obama "says he's for coal, but the regulation he's putting on coal is making it basically impossible for us to mine the coal," he said. "Underground, they don't want us to have so much dust … and with EPA with the power plants, they're killing so many megawatts that our plants just can't run as clean as they want them to run," he said.
A new poll released Tuesday by Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling found Mr. Obama's 3-point lead over Mr. Romney in battleground Ohio unchanged since late June. The poll of 961 likely voters had Mr. Obama up 48 percent to 45 percent, within the margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.