With Fresh Burst of Confidence, Candidates Meet in Ohio

With polls showing the presidential race tightening, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama worked to project confidence about their chances as they campaign today in Ohio, a state that could determine the election outcome.

Less than a month before the Nov. 6 election and with early balloting under way in several competitive states, both candidates are focusing on a state that has voted for the winner in the past 12 presidential elections.

At a rally with 15,000 people at Ohio State University in Columbus, beside a sign with large white letters that read “Vote Early,” Obama told students to “grab your friends, grab everybody in your dorm” to make the 9 p.m. registration deadline and then cast ballots immediately using the state’s early voting option.

“No extensions, no excuses,” he said, adding that buses were available to take students to and from locations to register. “We make it easy.”

Romney’s campaign, after publicly weighing paths to victory without Ohio, is intensifying efforts in the state. The candidate kicks off a four-stop tour at an event tonight outside of Akron with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

The incumbent president’s advantage over Romney has narrowed in Ohio following the challenger’s performance in the first debate between the two men on Oct. 3 in Denver, according to a CNN poll released today.

Ohio Poll

The Oct. 5-8 survey found 51 percent of likely voters in Ohio supporting Obama and 47 percent supporting Romney. Obama had held a 52-43 percent lead in the state in the CNN/ORC International poll that surveyed likely voters through Oct. 1.

In Columbus, Obama continued to accuse Romney of trying to hide the $5 trillion cost of his tax plan, and he mocked Romney’s calls to cut funding for public television to control the deficit. He also said Romney is offering “a foreign policy that gets us into wars with no plan to end them.”

Romney stopped first today in another battleground state, wooing Iowa farmers with promises to help the agriculture industry by easing taxes and environmental regulations coupled with attacks on Obama.

“He has no plan for rural America, no plan for agriculture, no plan for getting people back to work and I do,” Romney told supporters gathered in a field in Van Meter. “I’m going to make sure I help the American farmer.”

Electoral Math

While winning Iowa’s six electoral votes could help clear Romney’s path to the presidency, no Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio. Without that state’s 18 electoral votes, Romney faces a narrow path to winning 270 needed to capture the presidency.

Romney’s aides see an opportunity to gain ground in Ohio as some polls show the challenger has pulled ahead of Obama nationally.

Romney has a 4-percentage-point lead over Obama among likely voters, according to a national Pew Research Center survey taken in the three days after the Oct. 3 debate. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. A Pew poll of likely voters taken Sept. 12-16 gave Obama a 51 percent to 43 percent lead, the widest margin of any White House candidate since then-President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Romney aides, seeking to capitalize on their candidate’s newfound momentum to make gains in Ohio, plan on tailoring their economic message to focus on manufacturing, offering contrasts on issues that impact that sector -- including energy, tax and health policy.

Manufacturing Focus

Romney “is going to offer a better vision for what we can do to bring back manufacturing,” spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters on the campaign plane today. “As a result, we’ll see a greater, stronger economy in Ohio.”

The presidential campaigns have run more ads on stations in Ohio than in any other state, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising. The candidates and their allies ran ads 141,150 times on Ohio stations from April 10 to Oct. 1, at an estimated cost of $78 million, CMAG data shows.

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Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan complained about the ads being run by Obama and his supporters in the state, in an interview yesterday with WTOL, a TV station in Toledo, Ohio.

“He doesn’t have anything to run on so he’s running all of these ads, outspending us here in Ohio trying to basically call us liars,” he said.

Youth Vote

The Obama campaign has been using campus rallies to register and energize large groups of young voters, who contributed to his 2008 win. A rally last week in another battleground state, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, drew 30,000 supporters, many of them students.

Obama aides say a strong presence in Ohio dating back more than four years has given their campaign a significant edge.

“We’re about to open our 120th office in the state,” campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One. “This is an inherent ground-game advantage.”

Today marked Obama’s 30th trip to Ohio as president and 15th this year, according to the campaign. Obama has said his auto industry bailout saved almost 155,000 jobs in Ohio. He also has said the state’s unemployment rate is lower than when he took office and that during that time the jobless rate in Columbus has dropped to 5.9 percent from 9.4 percent.

His campaign also unveiled a new advertisement deploying Sesame Street’s Big Bird.

The satirical spot pokes fun at Romney for naming public television funding as an example of federal spending he would cut, a statement Democrats have jumped on since he reiterated the pledge during last week’s debate.

Sesame Street

“Big, yellow, a menace to our economy. Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about. It’s Sesame Street,” says an ominous-sounding narrator.

Romney said Obama was focusing on trivialities rather than serious economic issues.

“These are tough times with real serious issues so you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird,” Romney said in Iowa.

Sesame Workshop, which produces the program, asked that the ad be taken down.

“Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns,” the workshop said in a statement billed as “News from the Neighborhood” at its website. “We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down.”

Psaki, asked if the campaign would comply, told reporters: “We have received that request and we’re reviewing it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Akron, Ohio, at llerer@bloomberg.net; Margaret Talev in Columbus, Ohio, at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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