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Polling numbers in the past two weeks show the presidential race in Ohio exceedingly close. The Real Clear Politics poll average had Mr. Obama ahead by 2.1 percentage points — 47.9 percent to 45.8 percent. Although the momentum has been with Mr. Romney since late September, several surveys have shown Mr. Obama with a slight or statistically insignificant lead while none has done the same for the Republican hopeful.

However, a survey last week by the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling firm suggests that the auto bailout issue isn’t hurting Mr. Romney much. In the poll of 532 likely Ohio voters, the respondents said they trusted Mr. Romney more on the economy, by a margin of 51 percent to 47 percent. The survey had Mr. Obama maintaining an overall lead of 49 percent to 48 percent.

When asked in surveys, Ohio voters follow the rest of the nation in consistently naming the economy in general as the top issue. A CBS poll from late August, for example, cited 59 percent of Ohio voters as calling the economy “extremely important” in determining their vote, with only health care among other issues managing to top 45 percent.

Still, Mr. Obama has used the auto issue to disparage Mr. Romney, saying that if the Republican had gotten his way, the U.S. car industry would have crumbled.

“If we had taken your advice, Gov. Romney, about our auto industry, we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China,” Mr. Obama said at Monday’s third and final presidential debate.

In making the charge, the Obama campaign typically cites a November 2008 op-ed in the New York Times headlined “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

In it, Mr. Romney wrote that he favored a “managed bankruptcy” that would give Detroit a “path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs.” This was more or less what eventually happened — GM and Chrysler did go bankrupt and restructured, albeit under government auspices. Contrary to what Mr. Obama has said, Mr. Romney never proposed the liquidation of GM or Chrysler.

Mr. Romney didn’t mention the auto rescue during a campaign stop in Cincinnati on Thursday, but his campaign continues to push back against the president. Mr. Romney’s Ohio campaign manager, Scott Jennings, pointed to Ohioans — like the Sargents and Mr. Lewis — who got the short end of the stick as a result of the bailout.

“The fact is Obama picked winners and losers inside this deal — and many Ohioans were on the losing end. Delphi retirees lost their pensions. Many dealerships closed. And now we hear Jeep is thinking of moving production from Toledo to China,” Mr. Jennings said. “Mitt Romney is a car guy, a son of Detroit. To argue he would do anything other than help support American automakers is just ridiculous.”

The two campaigns’ sparring over the bailout may be good action for political pundits, but the average Ohio voter is instead looking at the economy as a whole, and that is driving many of them to Mr. Romney.

Judy Gierl, a community volunteer from Cincinnati, said she voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 and still agrees with him on many social issues, yet can’t support his re-election.

“I think he’s a great guy, but the economy is the most important issue to me, and I’ve been disappointed on the economy,” she said Thursday morning as she stood outside the Romney rally in Cincinnati.