MARION, Ohio -- Forced out of Virginia by Hurricane Sandy, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took advantage of the opportunity to add two more stops to his planned trip to Ohio to rally crowds in Republican-rich areas of west-central Ohio.
Mr. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan painted Democratic President as the protector of an unsuccessful status quo that has failed to ignite an economic revival, while Mr. Obama in Washington canceled today's planned campaign trip to Youngstown to monitor the emergency response to the hurricane lashing the East Coast.
"We're counting on you," Mr. Romney said as he wrapped up a speech in the Koehler Athletic Complex at the University of Findlay. "Findlay, Ohio, may well be the place that decides who the next president is."
At Marion, he repeated his mantra, "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose," adding that he believes "the people have clear eyes about the importance of this election, and full hearts."
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They spoke to crowds of 2,500 or more, ending in the Marion Coliseum, an old-fashioned basketball arena that reverberated with enthusiastic cheers for each of the string of Republican candidates who took to the stage - along with country music stars Oak Ridge Boys, one of whom declared unambiguously, "we endorse Mitt Romney for president."
Unaddressed in the rally speeches was the battle furiously by the two campaigns over Mr. Romney's choice of words at a rally in Defiance Thursday, where he repeated a report, later deemed inaccurate, that Fiat, the owners of Chrysler, plan to move all Jeep production to China.
Chrysler referred journalists to a correct story by Bloomberg News that Fiat was thinking of building all of its models of Jeeps in China, not that it was planning to shut down any American production.
The Romney campaign released a new TV ad highlighting Fiat's plans to build cars in China, while the Obama campaign refused to let go of Mr. Romney's initial mischaracterization.
“Mitt Romney’s new ad is a sure sign that he knows he’s in trouble in Ohio. When the American auto industry and a million workers’ jobs were on the line, Mitt Romney turned his back. Now he’s pretending it never happened and is trying to scare Ohioans by repeating a blatant falsehood that Chrysler is moving its Jeep operations to China," said Obama campaign spokesman Lis Smith.
Mr. Romney's new ad portrays American cars from the 1960s being driven, and then crushed for junk.
"Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China," a narrator says.
Speaking at a news conference with employees of Cooper Tires in Findlay, former "auto czar" under President Obama Steven Rattner said General Motors and Chrysler would have been liquidated, had Mr. Romney's advice opposing the 2009 taxpayer bailout of the auto industry been followed.
"I think it is utterly misleading and false for Mr. Romney to say his plan would have saved the auto companies," Mr. Rattner said.
Romney supporter U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said Mr. Romney would have guaranteed loans to the two businesses after bankruptcy. Mr. Rattner said that the companies didn't have the cash to last until the bankruptcy restructuring.
At Findlay, Mr. Romney said "The President believes everything's going about right, that we're on track. My own belief is this is a turning point for America. We cannot stay on the course we're on. The American people believe we need dramatic and deep change."
He told crowds, "we're going to take full advantage of our coal, our oil, our gas... and by the way we're going to bring in that pipeline."
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He vowed, "I will not raise taxes on middle-income Americans," contradicting President Obama who has warned that Mr. Romney's plan for a 20-percent across-the-board tax cut would force tax increases of $2,000 a year on families with children - including 30,000 Hancock County families with incomes below $200,000, the Obama campaign calculated Sunday.
Mr. Romney recited statistics that 23 million Americans are out of work, that half of college students graduate without jobs commensurate with their education, and that Obamacare has added $2,500 to the cost of health care per family rather than been reduced the $2,500 he said was promised by Mr. Obama four years ago.
The Obama campaign came back with statistics of their own showing an improving economy, and examples of how people have benefited from Mr. Obama's policies. They said 2,185 auto jobs would have disappeared in Hancock County without the auto industry bailout, that the county has gained more than 2,200 jobs in the last 31 months, and that unemployment has come down from 9.8 percent in September, 2009, to 5.3 percent in September, 2012.
"Romney-Ryan are wrong for Hancock County," said Ohio Obama campaign spokesman Jessica Kershaw. "Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan carried on with their tour of misleading voters, this time in Celina, trying to hide from the fact that their agenda would result in higher taxes for middle class families, tax cuts for multi-millionaires, deep cuts to investments in education and turning Medicare into a voucher program."
A poll of likely Ohio voters commissioned by The Blade and the Ohio Newspaper Organization, released in newspapers today, found Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama tied at 49 percent each, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Mr. Romney was to return today (MONDAY) to campaign in Avon Lake, Ohio, west of Cleveland.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058