Mitt Romney on Saturday aimed to keep his post-convention momentum going with a campaign stop in the battleground state of Ohio He and his staff are figuring that while he has the momentum from the Republican National Convention he might be able to sway some votes. Thus his best bet is to take advantage of the wind that’s to his back.
But little of it may matter if Romney cannot win here in Ohio, where a loss would severely narrow his path to the White House.
That explains why the state has seen more presidential campaign ads than any other in the last three months, why it has assumed such a prominent place in the legal battles over voting rules, and why Romney, Obama and their running mates campaigned here over the Labor Day weekend.
“It’s possible to win without Ohio,” Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the chairman of the Romney campaign here, said in an interview. “But I wouldn’t want to risk it.”
Portman and John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, joined Romney and thousands of cheering supporters at Union Terminal here on Saturday for a rally that had the distinct high energy of a newly engaged general election campaign. Reprising a theme from his convention speech, that Obama had failed to live up to sky-high promises, Romney drew laughs from the crowd by saying, “He famously said that he was going to slow the rise of the oceans,” then thundering, “Our promise to you is this: we’re going to help the American people.”
Romney is running closely with Obama in most national polls, but the story is different in several states that will decide the race for the necessary 270 electoral votes. Many polls in those states show Obama holding an advantage over Romney as the Democrats prepare to open their convention on Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C. In a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News pollreleased just over a week ago, Obama had a six-point advantage over Romney in Ohio for the second month in a row.
To give a sense of Romney’s challenge: he could win Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia — all carried by Obama in 2008 — and still fall short without Ohio and its 18 electoral votes.
The state, which has been doing better than the nation as a whole by some economic measures, will test whether Obama can successfully point to selective improvements in the economy, and whether Romney can make the case that with a Republican governor, in this instance John R. Kasich, conservative policies like reductions in government spending are already promoting job growth.
Democratic ads attacking Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns and accusing him of presiding over the outsourcing of jobs while at Bain Capital have made it more difficult to gain the trust of voters here, his advisers said. The president has an edge of 18 percentage points over Romney in Ohio when voters are asked who cares more about their problems, according to the Quinnipiac/Times/CBS poll.
The campaign here also brings to life a key matchup of the race: the intensive get-out-the-vote organization of the Obama campaign versus Republicans who are racing to catch up and remain reliant on the energy of grass-roots conservatives.
“Ohio is a microcosm of this campaign,” said Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama, pointing to increases in manufacturing and expansion in the automobile industry across the state, which has given the president a positive story to tell here.
No Republican in modern times has reached the White House without carrying Ohio, and the alternatives strike fear into Romney’s quickly expanding team in the state.
In 2008, Obama won Ohio by four percentage points. At the Republican National Convention last week, Romney sought to appeal to voters who backed Obama but are now wavering, a strategy critical here in Ohio, where suburban women and independent voters around Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati are a main focus.
This county, Hamilton, has been reliably Republican, with Obama becoming the first Democrat to carry it since Lyndon Johnson.
“This is ground zero right here,” said Rose Pietras, 66, as she worked the phones in Romney’s volunteer office on the edge of town. “This is about turnout.”
Portman said the Republican base is not enough. “You’re not going to get there without attracting Obama voters,” he said.
The roster of deeply competitive states has remained virtually unchanged for months, with Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia narrowly divided. Wisconsin has become more competitive since Representative Paul D. Ryan joined the Republican ticket, offering a stronger appeal to voters in his home state.
While Obama still has far more paths to 270 electoral votes, given how he expanded the Democratic map four years ago, he is facing considerable resistance in some of those states.
He visited Iowa on Saturday for the third time in two weeks and mocked the Republican convention as a throwback to old ideas, saying: “You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV.” He will also make his second trip in a week to Colorado on Sunday before coming to Ohio.
On the eve of the Republican convention, a senior strategist with a Republican “super PAC,” who would share the group’s strategic thinking only on the condition of anonymity, said Romney would need a “real surge” and “a reset to the dynamics there” to gain an edge over Obama in Ohio.
With many automobile manufacturers and parts makers, Ohio’s economy has benefited from the administration’s bailout of the industry. The state’s unemployment rate of 7.2 percent in July was more than a percentage point lower than the national average. And while Obama’s aides do not feel overconfident, they are pleased to see that Democrats remain in command of the race, in a state where Republicans dominated in the 2010 elections.
Romney appeared to struggle with the blue-collar workers of this state during the primary campaign in March, just narrowly defeating former Senator Rick Santorum. Still, he performed well in most suburban areas, where turnout is expected to be greater in November.
In the last three months, Obama’s campaign spent roughly $20 million to run commercials nearly 40,000 times here, according to the media analysis firm Kantar Media/CMAG. Romney spent more than $8 million to run more than 14,000 ads during the same period, but pro-Romney groups including American Crossroads helped Republicans match Obama ad for ad, according to CMAG.
With the formal start of the general election season, Mr. Romney’s campaign has enough money to combine with the super PACs to flood television screens with anti-Obama advertising.
But the Republicans had a setback on Friday when a federal judge reversed a new state law that halted early voting on the weekend before Election Day. In 2008, that final weekend was seen as giving Obama an advantage, especially as African-American churchgoers organized trips to the polls on Sunday.
The early voting accounted for 100,000 ballots in 2008, roughly 2 percent of the total cast. That is no small number in such a hard-fought swing state, especially this year. Republicans said they would appeal the judge’s ruling.
For now, Romney’s aides can take heart that their convention, which featured personal testimonials from friends and acquaintances, appeared to give him a lift.
Arriving too late at Union Terminal to see Romney, Elizabeth Cartagena, 54, said: “He helped people — a lot of people. I saw his speech on the TV.” She said she planned to vote for him also because “he’s of God, too. I’m Christian.”
The gap between the Republican and Democratic conventions serves as a preview of the two-month post-Labor Day sprint to Election Day, where both campaigns will be pouring more money into television and more energy into corralling the small herd of undecided voters into their respective camps.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was met by an energetic and roaring crowd inside a train station turned museum in Cincinnati. Several thousand more people greeted him and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan at a shopping and dining complex along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Fla. – bringing an end to the biggest week of Romney’s career, where he became the first Mormon the win the nomination of either party.
Romney planned to spend the rest of the Labor Day weekend at lakefront home in Wolfboro, N.H. and the Associated Press reported that Kevin Madden, a senior Romney advisor, said the ex-governor would spend three days next week preparing – with the help if Portman – for the fall debate showdowns with Obama.
Romney doesn’t have a magic jar to tell