Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman at a victory rally held in the town square in Lancaster.
The Columbus Dispatch/ Chris Russell
LANCASTER, Ohio — The Romney-Ryan Republican presidential ticket jumped on a remark from Vice President Joe Biden about the Lima, Ohio, tank plant in the debate, saying to eliminate production of the tank “projects weakness,” in a rally here on Friday.
The campaign was quick to produce a radio spot targeting Mr. Biden’s reference to the issue of the tanks, and GOP running mate Paul Ryan referred to it in his remarks to a crowd counted by the Romney campaign at 8,500 in the picturesque town square here.
“When you say it’s OK to impose these devastating cuts in our military, or we don’t need any more M1 Lima-built tanks, what we are doing is projecting weakness and when we project weakness abroad, our enemies become more brazen,” Mr. Ryan said.
During the televised debate on Thursday between Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan, Mr. Biden said the Pentagon is looking for “a smaller, leaner Army.”
“We need more special forces. We need — we don’t need more M1 tanks, what we need is more UAVs,” Mr. Biden said. A UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly known as a drone.
About 800 people are employed in Lima making the tanks at General Dynamics Corp. Land Systems’ Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
The rally attracted the third crowd of the week in Ohio of more than 8,000 showing up for Mr. Romney, whose standing in opinion polls has improved since his own debate last week.
Lancaster, a rural and bedroom community of Columbus is also home to Anchor Hocking Co., a longtime manufacturer of glass tableware. In his remarks, Mr. Romney said he had been in Lancaster before, working for Anchor Hocking.
“My very first assignment at my first job was to come to Lancaster and to try to do a little work at a little company called Anchor Hocking,” he said. He said he flew in to Columbus during a six-month period, but didn’t detail the actual work he did, nor who his first employer was.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), who appeared on the stage with the presidential candidates, also attacked the administration’s cut of the tank production.
“They'll ensure that we have a military second to none so we can keep the peace. We need M1 tanks,” Mr. Portman said.
Mr. Portman and other opponents of closing the plant contend it would be cheaper to keep running the factory than to shut it down and then restart it in a few years when the need arises again.
“The past decade has once again demonstrated the critical role of tanks in fulfilling our national security. The Army knows it needs to upgrade its tanks in a few years, but if the White House has their short-sighted way, there may not be a ready U.S. industrial base to do it,” Mr. Portman said in a later statement.
He said the program supports 65 suppliers, including the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, and accounts for the jobs in Lima. He said if funding is not added to the Pentagon's 2013 budget to upgrade the Abrams program, the Defense Department will shutter the same combat vehicle industrial base it intends to try to restart in 2017 to continue the modernization of the Abrams tank and to produce the Ground Combat Vehicle and other systems.
The Obama campaign deferred to the White House on the tank question but forwarded to The Blade comments from Army officials saying it has more than enough tanks.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said the Army has roughly 3,000 tanks sitting at a remote military base in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, as well as 2,300 M1s deployed with U.S. forces around the world.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, has called the M1 tank production “a continuing waste of Army resources.”
The Pentagon also contends there is enough demand from U.S. allies to keep the plant operating.
Mr. Romney claimed Mr. Ryan showed up Mr. Biden in their televised debate on Thursday.
“There was one person on the stage with thoughtfulness, who was respectful, who was steady and poised. There was one person on stage that you’d want to be with in a crisis and it's this man right here,” Mr. Romney said of his running mate.
Joyce Owens, 65, of Pataskala, Ohio, near Columbus, said Mr. Romney’s performance in the previous week and Mr. Ryan's satisfactory debate outing Thursday have made her much more hopeful about the outcome of the election.
“I was concerned before the debates,” said Ms. Owens, a homemaker. “My sister and I would talk and pray about it every day. I was worried and I’m not so worried now.”
Obama spokesman Lis Smith said Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan were “defensive about last night’s debate at their event in Ohio.” She said Vice President Biden “unmasked their real agenda. Romney and Ryan want to cut taxes by $250,000 for multimillionaires and pay for it by raising taxes on the middle class.”
Meanwhile President Obama’s campaign began blanketing Ohio with two new TV ads attacking the GOP candidates’ stance on tax and women's issues.
One, called “Economic Growth,” criticizes Mr. Romney for defending his 14 percent tax rate, paid on capital gains on an income of more than $20 million, even though it is lower than many people earning middle-class salaries are paying.
A second ad is aimed at women voters and attacks ’the Romney-Ryan ticket’s extreme views on women’s health.” It highlights Mr. Romney’s campaign promise to end funding for Planned Parenthood.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have been in and out of Ohio all week, including a stop by Mr. Ryan at Toledo Express Airport on Monday.
Today, Mr. Romney is to return to southern Ohio for rallies in Portsmouth and Lebanon. Mr. Ryan is to speak at a rally in Youngstown and attend a tailgate party at the football game in Bowling Green between Bowling Green State University and his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio.
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