WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Mitt Romney rallied an estimated 30,000 Republican Party faithful on Friday in perhaps the friendliest GOP territory in Ohio, promising “real change” as he made what may be his closing arguments for the votes of battleground Ohio.
“Your state is the one I'm counting on. This is the one I've got to win,” he said before a crowd that his campaign claimed was the largest Mr. Romney has drawn anywhere.
The game plan was to fire up supporters in the Cincinnati suburbs and then send the big-name campaign surrogates standing behind him off for last-minute pushes through Iowa, Virginia, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and other “swing states.”
“You can stay on the path of the last four years, or you can choose change,” Mr. Romney said.
“You know if the President is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress. He’s ignored them. He’s attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling is going to come up again. ...
“The President was right the other day when he said you can’t change Washington from the inside,” he said.
“We’re going to take him at his word and give him a chance to be outside Washington.”
West Chester Fire Chief Tony Gollier estimated the crowd at 30,000, sandwiched into an open field among a sea of suburban shopping centers and office buildings.
Kid Rock performed for the crowd, finishing with his “Born Free,'' the Romney campaign theme.
The rally’s guest list included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuiliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, and former primary opponents Rick Santorum and Rick Perry.
Mr. Romney took aim at a comment made by President Obama earlier in the day while campaigning in Springfield, Ohio. In a variation of his oft-repeated line, “Don’t boo, vote,'' Mr. Obama added the line, “Voting is the best revenge.”
“He asked his supporters to vote for revenge. For revenge,” Mr. Romney said.
“Instead, I ask the American people to vote for love of country.''
He pointed to Friday’s jobs report that showed the economy added a higher-than-expected 170,000 jobs last month, not enough to prevent the unemployment rate from inching up a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent. He blasted Mr. Obama's policies as an anchor preventing the national economy from taking wing.
“That’s 9 million jobs short of what was promised,” he claimed. “Unemployment is higher today than when he took office.”
Butler County, on the edge of the Cincinnati beltway, is home to U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and where future Wisconsin Congressman and Romney running mate Paul Ryan attended Miami University of Ohio.
It went overwhelmingly for John McCain in 2008. Mr. Romney is counting on roaring out of rural and suburban counties like Butler to counter Mr. Obama’s expected strength in Ohio's urban areas.
Mr. Romney is also counting on putting Cincinnati's Hamilton County back in the red column after it went blue for Mr. Obama four years ago.
“Anyone looking for a positive, forward-looking vision at Mitt Romney’s Ohio event tonight was surely disappointed,” said Obama spokesman Jessica Kershaw. “Speaker after speaker offered angry, hyper-partisan, and widely debunked attacks that at times veered into conspiracy theory territory. It’s a fitting end to Mitt Romney’s campaign, since he has kowtowed to the far-right wing of the Republican Party throughout the six years he’s been running for president, leaving little doubt that he’d rubber-stamp the Tea Party agenda in the White House.
“If this is Mitt Romney’s closing argument for the American people, he’s making a compelling case for why we can’t afford to elect him,” she said.
Ohio will remain in the candidates’ cross-hairs through election eve. Mr. Romney will return to Cleveland on Sunday with country singer Rodney Atkins in tow and will close out the Ohio campaign on Monday night with a rally at Port Columbus International Airport with the Marshall Tucker Band.
Running mate Paul Ryan will head for Marietta College Saturday morning, Mansfield on Sunday, and finish in Youngstown on Monday.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Romney's Ohio campaign came full circle as he led a rally at Screen Machines Industries, the maker of equipment for the mining industry in Etna just outside Columbus. He launched his Ohio campaign in July 2011 on the plant's floor.
A raucous crowd greeted Mr. Romney with loud chants of “four more days,” but it wasn’t as if he needed a reminder that Election Day is Tuesday.
“You’re right,” he told the crowd. “It’s a few more days before people can make a decision about who they think can actually make America great again.”
His emphasis on creating more jobs and fixing the economy played well to the crowd at Screen Machine Industries.
Mike and Jessie Mann of Thornville, Ohio, said their lives have been destroyed under President Obama's leadership.
Mike was laid off more than a year ago, and Jessie, a retired health-care worker, had to use her retirement fund to pay the couple's way out of bankruptcy.
“It’s been tough for quite awhile,” Mrs. Mann said.
“I’m like most people. I just want to be able to pay the bills, and I don’t want to eat dog food.”
Staff writer Federico Martinez contributed to this report.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.