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Dueling Ohio events set stage for campaign's home stretch

Speaking at a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, Mitt Romney promised to push America toward a balance budget if he is elected president. Watch his entire speech.


Updated 6:16 p.m. - Just about 22 miles along I-75 separated President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s events Wednesday in northwest Ohio, the corner of a well-worn swing state that could foretell the outcome of November’s election.

Obama spoke this afternoon at Bowling Green State University, a college just a short drive south from nearby Toledo, where Romney held a rally early Wednesday evening. The candidates’ dueling rallies signify the importance of a specific and shrinking slice of undecided voters in battleground states like Ohio, where state-level polling mirrors what is happening nationally, with Romney falling behind and needing to quickly make up ground. 

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In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.

Putting his mission bluntly, the GOP nominee told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday: "Ohio voted for Barack Obama the last time, so to win I've got to get people who voted for him the last time to vote for me this time." 

"I'm going to win Ohio," Romney predicted to NBC News in an interview before his rally in Toledo.

For Obama, today’s trip to the area was just his latest since stopping in Toledo on Labor Day; he and Vice President Joe Biden are frequent visitors to the state. Romney, meanwhile, spent the day capping a bus tour that had taken him and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan throughout the Buckeye State over the past few days. 

The recent swing through Ohio couldn’t be of more importance to the Republican ticket. A Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll released Wednesday found Obama handily leading Romney among the state’s likely voters, 53 to 43 percent. 

Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama waves at supporters after speaking at a campaign rally at the Bowling Green State University on September 26, 2012 in Bowling Green, Ohio.

That’s a wider margin compared to two weeks ago, when Obama led Romney by seven points -- 50 to 43 percent -- in the NBC News/Marist/Wall Street Journal poll of Ohio’s likely voters. 

The Romney campaign insisted Tuesday it has “confidence in our data and our metrics” showing a more competitive race, but public polling suggests Romney and Ryan have to make up ground if they hope to win this crucial battleground state in just less than six weeks. 

Speaking in Bedford Heights Wednesday afternoon, Romney launched into a stock attack on the president, and a lionization of business. 

“A lot of people can talk. Talk is cheap. You can be extraordinarily eloquent and describe all the wonderful things you can do, but when you cut through the words you can look at the record, and when you can see policies that have not created the jobs America needs, then you know it’s time to choose a new leader, get a new coach, get America growing again,” Romney said before departing for his later event in downtown Toledo. 

President Obama says Mitt Romney's tough talk on U.S.-Chinese relations is "just not credible,"  at a rally at Ohio's Bowling Green State University. Watch his entire speech.

At the same time, Obama was speaking in the Toledo area, where he looked to exploit his apparent advantage over Romney (for now) by exhorting attendees of his rally to take advantage of early voting when it begins Oct. 2. 

"I need you to register to vote. I need you to start voting,” Obama concluded at his rally on the college campus. 

The president told the crowd at Bowling Green that if the student who introduced him – who, according to Obama, put off treatment for a broken wrist earlier in the day to fulfill his obligations at the rally – could grit his teeth through an injury, they had no excuse not to register to vote. 

The dueling rallies in Northwest Ohio, separated by just a few hours and just a few miles, are just one high-profile example of the bombardment voters there have endured during the past few presidential election cycles. It’s well-documented that no Republican in recent political history has won the presidency without winning Ohio and for Romney, his narrow Electoral College map would become even more challenging were he to lose the state. 

David Richard / AP

Diane Champion, owner of A. H. Marty Co., listens to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during a campaign stop at American Spring Wire, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012, in Bedford Heights, Ohio.

It’s no surprise, then, that Obama and Romney overlapped there Wednesday, especially given the local population, which represents somewhat of a microcosm of the voters for which the two candidates will tussle this fall. 

The region is a hub for the auto industry and component businesses, and the president is quick to boast of his decision to bail out the auto industry (a decision which Romney opposed) when campaigning in the area. Toledo, nicknamed the “Glass City” for its tradition in producing that product, has sought to refashion itself as a manufacturer of solar panels, an industry which has benefited from Obama’s renewable-energy initiatives. 

“When my opponent just said we should ‘Let Detroit go Bankrupt,’” Obama told the crowd in Bowling Green, referencing Romney’s infamous 2008 op-ed for the New York Times, “that would've meant walking away from an industry that supports one in eight Ohio jobs.” 

Ahead of early voting in Ohio, President Obama is reminding voters in the Buckeye State that he pushed for an auto industry bailout early in his first term. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

But while Obama has been the beneficiary of growing economic optimism throughout Ohio, where the unemployment rate sunk to 7.2 percent in August, the jobless rate in the Toledo area is higher – 8.1 percent – through the end of July, the most recent month for which local statistics are available. 

“When manufacturing leaves it’s very hard to bring it back. And we’ve lost manufacturing again and again and again. And some people say oh, that’s fine, ‘We'll just do the engineering and the high-end things,’” Romney said at his Cleveland-area event. “But let me tell you: Ultimately the engineering and the high-end things go where the manufacturing is, because ideas and engineering and innovation are associated with manufacturing. We have to have manufacturing here and my policy will be to bring it back."

According to the latest Census, the median household income of about $42,000 for Lucas County, which includes much of the Toledo metro area, is less than the statewide average of $47,300. Eighteen percent of people in the county live below the poverty level, and just 23 percent of the area’s residents over the age of 25 have achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition, the area has long been a stronghold for white Catholics, a prized voting bloc for both campaigns this cycle. 

Mitt Romney teams Mike Rowe the host of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" in roundtable discussion on jobs in Ohio. Watch the entire event.

In short, the area is a cross-section of the swing voters both Romney and Obama have assiduously courted in various battleground states this year. 

Underscoring that fact, Toledo is the eighth-hottest media market for campaign ad spending in the general election, according to NBC News ad-tracking sources.  And it is the 10th-hottest media market just this week. The Romney campaign and its supporters have spent about $1 million on Toledo’s airwaves this month, while Obama’s campaign and its supporters have spent more than $760,000. 

It’s also one of the areas where the Obama campaign and supportive super PACs blanketed the airwaves early this summer criticizing Romney as a pioneer of outsourcing and for allegedly dodging tax laws. 

Today’s poll from Ohio suggests those attacks have paid long-term dividends for Obama. Fifty-seven percent of likely voters said they didn’t think that Romney cared about the needs and problems of people like them; 51 percent said they thought Obama would do a better job handling the economy, versus 45 percent of Ohio voters who said that of Romney. 

Almost five months ago, in late March, Romney led Obama, 49 to 40 percent, among Ohioans on the question of who would better handle the economy.