As the race for the White House takes on a new air of volatility after President Obama's off-kilter debate last week, Mitt Romney is displaying new vigor in his fight for Ohio. Its 18 electoral votes are critical to Romney's candidacy, and the state has bedeviled him like no other battleground state.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — If one place is emerging as a test of Mitt Romney’s ability to capitalize on a new dynamic in the presidential race, it is Ohio, where the Republican is intensifying his advertising, deploying more troops and spending four of the next five days.
Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes are critical to Romney’s candidacy, has bedeviled him like no other battleground state. His prospects were so shaky two weeks ago that his advisers openly discussed the narrow path to winning the necessary 270 electoral votes without Ohio, which every Republican president in the nation’s history has carried.
But as the race for the White House takes on a new air of volatility after President Obama’s off-kilter debate last week — a poll from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center on Monday suggested that Romney had wiped out the president’s lead among voters nationally — Romney is displaying new vigor in his fight for Ohio. The state, along with Iowa, Virginia and Florida, is now at the heart of Romney’s strategy for the remaining 28 days of the campaign.
Obama and Romney are both visiting Ohio on Tuesday, the final day of voter registration here, but Romney is sticking around for one of his most intensive bursts of campaigning yet. His increased presence is a response to pleas from state Republican leaders to invest more time and attention to the regions where he needs to turn out his voters.
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“Republicans who were concerned about some of the poll numbers now have a higher degree of enthusiasm,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, chairman of Romney’s campaign here. “We’ve got a great opportunity to keep the momentum going.”
For the first time, Romney is personally making his case in a new television ad, saying, “Ohio families can’t afford four more years like the last four.” The message, while hardly novel, is a welcome sight to Republicans who have watched with frustration as Obama’s campaign has dominated airwaves for weeks, with a tailor-made operation for Ohio.
Romney’s problems here have included Obama’s success at defining the former Massachusetts governor to many voters over the summer as an out-of-touch corporate raider and a state economy that has been more vibrant than in the country overall. With both the state and national unemployment rates now below 8 percent, Romney may have less opportunity than earlier this year to convince voters when he asks them in his new ad, “The question Ohio families are asking is, Who can bring back the jobs?”
Several Republican officials, asked why Romney has been lagging well behind Democrat Obama, responded that it was not that Romney was not selling here but rather that his campaign had not been selling him well.
The president’s campaign has overwhelmed Romney up until now in television advertising. In Youngstown, Romney and his allied groups ran virtually no advertisements through much of September as Obama and his Democratic allies showed their ads more than 1,100 times there, according to data compiled by media monitoring firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
Romney now has stepped up his advertising in smaller markets across the state, including Youngstown, Zanesville and Lima. He is to travel across the state Tuesday and Wednesday, with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey at his side, hoping to keep enthusiasm high among Republicans who have been showing up in greater numbers at volunteer centers across the state this week.
Romney’s advisers say that if his campaign is to have a lasting resurgence in the four weeks until Election Day, it must come in states like Ohio. But the debate in Denver last week, where Romney commanded the stage, has provided him an opportunity to reset the contest.
The president’s advisers acknowledged in interviews that Romney was almost certain to get a “second look” from some Republican-leaning independent voters who had not yet embraced him despite misgivings about Obama, including in reliably Republican rural areas where Romney needs a large turnout.
A Republican-leaning voter in the Cincinnati area who was ambivalent about Romney before the debate said Monday that she was now solidly on board.
“I was never really sure where he stood or how he was. To me, you have to be a strong leader in not only what you’re deciding but also the way you come across,” said the voter, Sara Campbell, 36, a mother of three. “When he was right up against Obama, it really showed that he was strong, that he stands behind his convictions and that was something that was important for me to see.”
Cathy Appel, 53, an independent voter from suburban Columbus, said she believed that Romney did a better job in the debate. But she said she was still leaning toward Obama because of Romney’s positions on women’s issues.
“Mitt Romney came across much more confidently than I would have thought,” said Appel, a retired government worker. “But I can’t imagine selling myself down the river.”
Republican strategists in Ohio said that Romney needed to increase his support among female voters, especially in the suburbs. Requests from state Republicans for a TV commercial featuring Ann Romney have not yet been approved by headquarters in Boston.
The Pew Research poll Monday found that Romney was backed by 49 percent of likely voters nationwide and Obama was supported by 45 percent, which was within the poll’s margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points for each candidate. But a Gallup survey of registered voters showed Monday that Obama was the choice of 50 percent and Romney was backed by 45 percent.
Advisers to both campaigns said they needed to wait for more focus groups and polls to determine the state of the race. The president’s aides argued that, at best, Obama’s uneven debate performance hastened a tightening in polls they predicted for the fall.
“We’ve always prepared for a close and competitive election, and we continue to,” said Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager.