DEFIANCE, Ohio — Defiance, Ohio — Stumping in the state that both campaigns see as critical to the 2012 vote, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney vowed Thursday that he and Rep. Paul Ryan, his running mate, will bring the kind of "big change" to Washington that President Obama promised in 2008 but has failed to deliver over the course of his first term in office.
In a three-stop bus tour that closed with him singing on stage alongside legendary rocker Meat Loaf, Mr. Romney said that Mr. Obama now represents the "status quo" and that the Democrat is growing desperate, resorting to "misdirected" attacks aimed at stopping the wave of momentum the former Massachusetts governor obtained from his three debates into the homestretch of the Nov. 6 election.
"His campaign gets smaller and smaller, focused on smaller and smaller things," Mr. Romney told the estimated 3,000 supporters gathered to see him at a southern Ohio manufacturing company. "Our campaign is about big things, because we happen to believe that America. We recognize this is a year with a big choice, and the Americans want to see big changes. And I'm going to bring it to this country."
The Obama camp mocked the notion that Mr. Romney embodies major change, saying the only "big change" that the GOP nominee is offering is "going back to the same failed policies that caused the economic crises and empowering the extreme voices in his party like Richard Mourdock" — the pro-life U.S. Senate candidate in Indiana who said this week that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, it is something that God intended to happen."
"Americans recognize that we can't afford to raise taxes on the middle class to give tax breaks to the richest Americans and let Wall Street write its own rules again. And they know that we won't be able to move forward with a president who is beholden to the far-right wing," said Lis Smith of the Obama campaign. "Unlike Mitt Romney, President Obama has a concrete and specific second-term plan to continue restoring economic security to the middle class and to avoid returning to the same policies that crashed the economy — a plan that will move us forward, not back."
Mr. Romney plans to travel to Iowa on Friday, where he trails in the polls. His campaign says he will delivered prepared remarks on the economy as he looks to seal the deal with voters on the issue where they trust him the most.
Mr. Romney will then return for another campaign event in Ohio, where Mr. Obama clings to a 2-percentage-point lead in the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls.
A Time magazine poll released Thursday also gave Mr. Obama a 49 percent to 44 percent lead in the state, though it is one of only two among the eight Ohio surveys in the RCP average to show Mr. Obama with a lead greater than the poll's error margin. None have Mr. Romney ahead, however.
The big question now lingering over the race is whether the jolt of momentum that Mr. Romney has had this month is enough to slingshot him to victory in Ohio, which many believe is the state that will make or break Mr. Romney's hopes to assemble the 270 votes he needs in the Electoral College. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio.
"Our trajectory is good, we have the momentum, our base is more energized, and Obama is suffering mightily among Democrats in coal country" in eastern parts of the state, said Scott Jennings, Ohio campaign manager for Mr. Romney. "All of the public polling — no matter if some of it has oversampled Democrats — shows Romney winning independent voters. The candidate who has won the last five major statewide races in Ohio won independents. It's happening again — Romney will win indies big, and therefore win Ohio."
There were some good signs Thursday for Mr. Romney that his momentum is not slowing down, as the campaign announced that it had raised $111.8 million in the first half of October. And three new national polls showed that Mr. Romney not only held a three percentage point lead over Mr. Obama, but also had garnered support from 50 percent of the likely voters surveyed - an important threshold in presidential campaigns.
The momentum was on display during his final rally of the day at the Defiance High School football stadium, where Randy Owen, the lead singer of country band Alabama, John Rich of the country duo Big and Rich, and Meat Loaf entertained the more 10,000 people with separate performances. The three singers later teamed up on stage with Mr. Romney to sing "America the Beautiful."
Meat Loaf said it was the first time in his life he had endorsed a candidate, and ridiculed Mr. Obama for thinking the Cold War is over — warning that the Democrat "needs to understand" Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. He also said that Mr. Romney is the "only man" who can deal with the dark "storm clouds" that have gathered over the U.S., the "thunder storms" hanging over Europe and the "major hail storms" in the Middle East.
"I want you to know that there is one man who will stand tall in this country and fight the storm and raise the United States back to what it should be: Gov. Mitt Romney!" Meat Loaf howled.
The Obama camp, though, says they its ground game put them on sold footing heading into the final days of the campaign.
"We're outperforming our early vote margins in key states compared to 2008, and we're ahead of where we were against John McCain — and most important, ahead of Mitt Romney," said Adam Fetcher of the Obama campaign. "The early vote helps us get out low-propensity, sporadic voters, which broadens our universe and frees up more get-out-the-vote resources later — especially on Election Day."
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, is ratcheting up his attempts to reach out to Hispanics and cut into Mr. Romney's support from women — slices of the electorate that helped propel Mr. Obama to victory in 2008.
At a campaign stop in Florida on Thursday, Mr. Obama warned that Mr. Romney wants to repeal parts of his national health care law that benefit women. On Wednesday, the Obama campaign also released a previously off-the-record interview with the Des Moines Register newspaper in which Mr. Obama pledged to pass immigration reform in his second term.
His campaign also highlighted that Mr. Romney continues to support Mr. Mourdock, despite the tea-party-backed Republican's controversial comments.
Back on the campaign trail here in Ohio, Mr. Romney stuck with the same sort of economic-focused message that he made the central theme of his campaign more than a year ago.
He told the crowd gathered here that he offers "real change" for the single mothers, college students who will be saddled with the soaring national debt, and those struggling to find a good job.
"I was speaking with a gentleman just the other day, and he said that he used to have a job at $25-an-hour plus benefits, and now he's only able to get a job at $9 an hour, and he wonders what's going to become of him, what's going to happen to his future," Mr. Romney said. "The president's campaign slogan is 'Forward.' To this gentleman, things don't feel like they're going forward; it feels more like backward."
Mr. Romney said the "status quo" path that the president has put the country on will, over the course of another four years, push the national debt to $20 trillion, weaken Medicare and shrink the nation's military — cutting jobs in Ohio and elsewhere.
"The path we're on does not have new answers. The president has the same old answers as in the past," he said.
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