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“Ohio is at the tip of the spear, and the world and the nation know that Ohio is the firewall for President Barack Obama,” Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland told the crowd in a chilly, dusty barn at the Franklin County fairgrounds. He said Mr. Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin “don’t even know how to fake compassion.” The governor ridiculed Mr. Ryan’s recent photo-op washing dishes at a soup kitchen in Ohio, and Mr. Romney’s effort collecting non-perishable goods for the Red Cross to distribute to victims of Superstorm Sandy.

Mr. Strickland criticized Mr. Romney for “getting his picture taken loading boxes on a truck. Send money, send money to the American Red Cross.”

A new Reuters-Ipsos on Friday found Mr. Obama with a small lead, 47 percent to 45 percent over Mr. Romney in Ohio, although the two are dead even nationally. The Real Clear Politics average of polls also shows Mr. Obama ahead slightly, 48.9 percent to 46.6 percent.

As the president’s motorcade pulled away from the fairgrounds in Hilliard, he was greeted by someone hold a cardboard sign proclaiming: “Benghazi — Don’t Stand Down to Terrorists,” a reference to media reports that U.S. officials failed to send reinforcements immediately while the U.S. consulate in Libya was under attack in September. Four Americans died, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Again in Springfield, the president was greeted by several people holding signs protesting the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack, including “Angry Ohio patriot” and “Pretty little liars.”