COLUMBUS, Ohio - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stepped off his campaign jet inside the hangar of the International Port of Columbus Airport tonight to kick off a rally that will be his next-to-last chance to meet directly with the voters who, judging from the amount of candidate attention here, will decide Tuesday's national election - Ohioans.
Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" blasted at earsplitting levels as the hangar doors opened and Mr. Romney's plane, a 1990 McDonnell-Douglas 83, nosed into the hangar.
In his remarks to 10,000 inside the hangar and a couple thousand still outside, according to the campaign, Mr. Romney promised that his government will lavish supportive attention on businesses and entrepreneurs that create jobs, contrary to what he said has been the effect of President Obama.
"If the President is re-elected, he's going to continue to crush small business. I don't know if he thinks of it that way, but that's what his policies are going to do," Mr. Romney said. "I care about small business. I want to see it thrive and grow.
"Unless we change course, we may be looking at another recession," Mr. Romney said.
Ohio has been the scene of more than 90 visits this year by the two presidential candidates, their running mates, and their spouses to sway Ohio's 18 electoral votes. Ohio is the only state that has been carried by every winning presidential contender since 1964, and no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.
Mr. Romney announced earlier tonight that he will visit the state again Tuesday, in the Cleveland area, after voting in Boston. The details were not immediately available.
President Obama campaigned at a rally in Columbus just a couple of hours before the Romney rally.
During President Obama's rally, he mocked Mr. Romney's claim to be the candidate of real change.
"Governor Romney is a very talented salesman. ... He’s tried to repackage the old ideas that don't work and offer them up as change. He’s tried to pretend that somehow these old ideas that did not work are new and will work this time," Mr. Obama said.
"Here’s the thing, Ohio: We know what change looks like. And what he’s selling ain't it," Mr. Obama said, according to a transcript of his remarks.
Mr. Romney said he would be able to work more effectively with the opposing political party, saying he was able to do that with the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature of Massachusetts.
"With the right leadership, America is going to come roaring back. The only thing that's standing between us and the best years we've ever known is lack of leadership," Mr. Romney said.
He attacked, as he has regularly in his stump speeches, what he said is influence that public school teacher unions will have over President Obama if he's re-elected because of their contributions to his campaign.
"I'm going to be the president of the children and the parents. There's no union for the PTA," Mr. Romney said.
The Southern rock band Marshall Tucker entertained the crowd before a series of speakers introduced Mr. Romney, including Ohio athletes golfer Jack Nicklaus and figure skating Olympian Scott Hamilton, a Bowling Green native.
Mr. Hamilton praised Mr. Romney's success in saving the 2002 Winter Olympics from mismanagement and scandal, and predicted he would emerge from the election contest to unite the United States.
"In my lifetime I don't think this country has ever been this divided. No one in my lifetime has seeked the office of the presidency with such a broad level of experience as Mitt Romney," Mr. Hamilton said. "He's the man that can restore the American dream."
Mr. Nicklaus, who lives in the Columbus area, said he turned down a request in 1976 to help Republican Gerald Ford campaign in Ohio and Mr. Ford ended up losing the state narrowly and the election.
"I've been kicking myself for 36 years," Mr. Nicklaus said.
Meanwhile, the two presidential campaigns skirmished over the meaning of Ohio's early voting numbers.
According to the Obama campaign, there were 1.9 million votes cast early, either in-person or requested by mail, as of this morning - with more voting still to come, compared with 1.7 million in 2008.
The campaign said more than 537,000 people voted early in-person this year compared with about 460,000 in 2008. Early votes in-person are considered to lean heavily Democratic.
Chris Maloney, spokesman for the Romney campaign, said the early voters turned out by Democrats were people who were going to vote anyway, and he said the Democratic majority in early voting that they had in 2008 has shrunk from a 22-point margin then to 7 points now.
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