Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney brought his campaign to Toledo on Wednesday to wrap up a three-day bus tour aimed at winning over the battleground state, braving rainy skies and even gloomier poll numbers.
While Mr. Romney seemed to click with the crowd in the SeaGate Convention Centre, many of whom stood in the rain for a chance to get inside, the former Massachusetts governor appeared to be slipping in the state overall, according to a newly released poll by Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times. The poll showed him trailing President Obama 53-43 percent.
Mr. Romney told supporters he would promote small-business expansion and end expansion of the nation's debt, which was shown as a constantly clicking number on a large tote board next to the stage.
"The President just the other day said you can't change Washington from the inside, you can only change it from the outside. Well, we're going to give him that chance on Nov. 6," Mr. Romney said.
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Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook estimated the crowd in the downtown convention center at just more than 4,000. Outside, Obama supporters chanted and waved signs at the Romney supporters lined up to enter the hall.
Mr. Romney attacked President Obama's signature accomplishment, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes also known as Obamacare.
"Obamacare is really exhibit No. 1 of the President's political philosphy, and that is that government knows better than people how to run their lives," Mr. Romney said.
He said government has a role in making sure that people who are hurting, who are disabled, and who are poor get the help they need.
"We're a compassionate people," he said. "At the same time, we're going to insist that these people have the opportunity for work if they can carry out work, because we're not going to create a society of dependence on government."
Mr. Romney was gratified by the crowd’s response, saying, "I love this country, I love Toledo, Ohio. What a welcome, what a sendoff."
Mr. Romney's local introducers included George Sarantou, the Republican candidate for Lucas County recorder, and U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R.,Bowling Green), who is seeking re-election in the 5th Congressional District. Absent from the event was the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District in which the event was held, Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher. Mr. Stainbrook said Mr. Wurzelbacher told him he was campaigning door to door.
Warming up the crowd, Mr. Stainbrook recalled last year's vote by Ohioans in support of a constitutional amendment to exempt Ohio from the federal health-care law, a vote that since has been deemed invalid after a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the law.
"Voters in Ohio sent a clear message they do not want Obamacare, but obviously Obama doesn't care, so he's got to go," Mr. Stainbrook told the cheering crowd. "It's clear this president just won't listen. I know somebody who will listen to the voters of Ohio, and that person is Mitt Romney. We need to make Barack Obama a one-term president."
More than 75 Obama supporters chanted “Outsource Romney,” at supporters waiting outside on Jefferson Avenue to hear the GOP candidate speak. Some wore Romney masks and “Obama for Ohio” badges and held up signs that read “Seniors Aren’t Victims,” “Romney Ryan? Be afraid, be very afraid,” and “Romney — 100 percent out of touch.”
The response of Sandy Brady of Toledo, a Romney-Ryan supporter, was: “Get a job if you don’t have one. Stop drinking the Kool-Aid and stop coveting what other people have. You have to earn it yourself.”
Added John Hill of Sylvania: "It’s just noise. I am here to support Romney. I think he has the right plan. He knows about money and Paul Ryan brings experience with strategies for legislative initiatives. They understand that you can’t spend more money than you make.”
Many who attended the event stood outside in the rain waiting to get inside. The line into the convention center stretched two blocks down Jefferson Avenue and around Huron Street.
Two single engine-planes circled around the downtown Toledo skyline before the event, each pulling banners with opposing messages. One read: “Mitt: the 47% are soldiers, students, and seniors,” and the other, “Save America Vote Romney, Dismiss Obama.”
Nick Buhrow and Jessica Wright, both 18 and Bowling Green State University students, went to the rally with different views of the election.
Mr. Buhrow of Cleveland said his mind is made up and he will vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket. “I have always liked the Republican ideas. I came to see Mitt Romney in person.”
Miss Wright said she was undecided and wanted to hear what Mr. Romney had to say.
“I want to know what he wants to do for the country,” she said. “I already know what President Obama has to say.”
The rally in Toledo ended a three-day bus tour for Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan. Earlier in the day, Mr. Romney shared a stage in the Columbus suburb of Westerville with Columbus native and golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
Mr. Nicklaus said his values of hard work and self-reliance are the same as those of Mr. Romney and likened the tenure of President Obama to an errant golf shot. "The worst thing you can do on a golf course is to dwell on a bad shot. We are too late to change recent history, but we can write a better future for ourselves, for our children, and for their children," said Mr. Nicklaus, 72.
Mr. Romney was also introduced by Gov. John Kasich, who lives in Westerville.
"Being governor and trying to come out of a mess is tough, but what I really need to really fix this state is I need Mitt Romney as president of the United States," Mr. Kasich said.
In his own remarks in Westerville, Mr. Romney said the national debt has increased from $10 billion to more than $16 billion under President Obama and is likely to reach $20 billion if he gets another four years.
"It is crushing. We're on the road to Europe, we're on the road to Greece. I will get us off that road," Mr. Romney said.
The Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times showed President Obama widening his lead over Mr. Romney among likely voters by 9 to 12 percentage points in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
“Gov. Mitt Romney had a bad week in the media and it shows in these key swing states,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The furor over his 47 percent remark almost certainly is a major factor in the roughly double-digit leads President Barack Obama has in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The debates may be Romney’s best chance to reverse the trend in his favor.”
Kevin Madden, a Romney campaign spokesman, said the GOP candidate is looking forward to the debates that start on Wednesday.
"His stategy is to talk directly to the American public about the issues that they care about. In this particular election, it's the state of the economy," he said, refusing to predict a victor. "What we do know about President Obama is he's one of the greatest political performers of all time. We know that the stakes are pretty high and the President has a lot of advantages."
Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.
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