Romney Hits Campaign Trail In Ohio

In this last mile of the presidential race, Mitt Romney has been all over the country. Yet half his events this week are in Ohio, which looks to be the most important battleground in this race.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Republicans may be downplaying early voting, but the Romney campaign is working to build voter excitement. Their candidate is in North Canton, Ohio tonight after taking a bus tour across the state yesterday. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney adopted a new theme in Cincinnati yesterday. Actually, it was an old theme that his opponent made popular four years ago. This branding effort was impossible to miss.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: The Americans want to see big changes, and I'll put us on a new path, a big change path. The big change Paul Ryan and I represent has five big - don't you think it's time for a big change in the course of this country? On November 6th, I'm counting on Ohio to vote for big change.

SHAPIRO: That was not even half the big changes in a single, 20-minute speech. And his characterization of President Obama was just as persistent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: The path we're on, the status quo path, the status quo path of the president - the status quo path says that we're going to have Obamacare.

SHAPIRO: At this event, Romney was introduced by three women who own small businesses, more evidence of Republican efforts to close the gender gap. That courtship hit a road bump this week with Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's comments about pregnancy and rape. Indiana voter Amanda Sargent came to the Romney rally in Cincinnati yesterday. She's willing to accept that Mourdock misspoke and move on.

AMANDA SERGEANT: I definitely don't agree that, you know, rape is God's plan, but I think he just meant that everyone is part of God's plan, everyone created.

SHAPIRO: The Romney bus rolled north from Cincinnati to Columbus, where a banner hanging outside of a metal fabrication plant proclaimed victory in Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: OH.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Ohio.

ROMNEY: I was afraid you'd say that. I guess Joe Biden was here the other day and said it was sure great to be here in Iowa.

SHAPIRO: Ohio's unemployment rate is almost a full point below the national average, but even 7 percent unemployment hurts when you're in a position like Melody Stevens-Koo. She lost her job in August of 2006.

MELODY STEVENS-KOO: I've applied for over 400 different jobs. I've had two interviews. I was 50 years old at the time. I went through all my unemployment, and now I am just living - my husband and I are living on his retirement.

SHAPIRO: Now she sees her competition: young people graduating from college who don't have jobs, either, and she wonders how much longer it's sustainable.

STEVENS-KOO: After a bit, when I didn't get any interviews and whatever, I was very disheartened. And I had my, you know, my family, my church and stuff, but it still kind of makes you feel, you know, like a little less of yourself because you want to work. I'm very capable. And so it was hard.

SHAPIRO: With an election just around the corner, she's feeling like things could finally change. Romney tried to tap into that hopefulness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: This has been a tough time for the American people, but I'm optimistic it's about to get a lot better. On November 7th, it's going to start getting better just with the news we voted for big change.

SHAPIRO: His third and final stop of the day was in Defiance, Ohio. At a high school football field, the lead singer of the band Alabama warmed up the crowd, along with the rocker Meatloaf.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Meatloaf said he'd never been involved in politics before.

MEATLOAF: I want you to know that there is one man who will stand tall in this country and fight the storm and bring the United States back to what it should be: Governor Mitt Romney.

SHAPIRO: Romney attacked President Obama intensely again, and he also struck a bipartisan note saying that as president, he'll reach across the aisle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: There are good Democrats who love this country. There are good Americans who love this - good Republicans who love this country. I'm going to work with both. I'm going to meet regularly with Democrats and Republicans, work together, work together to solve our problems.

SHAPIRO: At the end of the rally, Meatloaf, Randy Owen and Mitt Romney joined in song as fireworks exploded overhead, one of the American hymns Romney mentions at nearly every campaign stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the Romney campaign.

MONTAGNE: You are hearing the latest on the presidential campaigns and the candidates on this station every morning on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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