WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Mitt Romney is trying to build enthusiasm around his struggling campaign in Ohio by sharpening the contrast with President Obama, on Wednesday framing the election as a “very dramatic choice” between two competing visions for the country’s future.
The Republican nominee began the second day of his Ohio bus tour by arguing that his policies would do more to help the middle class and the millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet.
“I do not want an intrusive, massive, larger debt spending government that crushes the American dream,” Romney said. “You guys, this matters. Look, this matters — this really matters. The choice we make is going to determine what kind of take-home pay people in America have. It’s going to determine what kind of jobs we have. It’s also going to determine whether our kids are confident and you’re confident in your kids and in their future.”
The bus trip comes as fresh polls show Romney trailing Obama here, as well as in other key battleground states. Later Wednesday, Romney toured a manufacturing facility in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights with Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery Channel’s reality series “Dirty Jobs,” and made a similar pitch to supporters on American Spring Wire Corp.’s factory floor.
“I think the president loves America; I love America,” Romney said. “I think the president cares about the people of America; I care about all the people in America. But I know how to help the people of America and make sure our future’s bright and prosperous for our kids and protect liberty and he does not.”
Tuesday morning in Westerville, after a warm introduction by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, an Ohio native, an energetic Romney addressed about 2,000 supporters in a high school gymnasium in a suburb of Columbus, a critical swing area. Romney drew sharp distinctions between his and Obama’s policies on energy, health care, taxes and government spending.
Gesturing to a ticking electronic debt clock at the morning rally, Romney warned that if Obama wins a second term, the $16 trillion national debt would grow to $20 trillion.
“That clock up there shows our national debt,” Romney said. “When I began this campaign, it started with $15 trillion. I mean, what is a trillion? It’s a thousand billions. It’s an unthinkable amount. . . . When [Obama] came into office, there was just over $10 trillion in debt. Now, there’s over $16 trillion in debt. If he were reelected, I can assure you it will be almost $20 trillion in debt.”
Yet despite weeks of promises from his campaign that he would lay out specific policy prescriptions, Romney stuck to his existing talking points. He spoke largely about his overall principles and policy goals but did not give details.
The Obama campaign responded to Romney’s speech by saying that he offered “more of the evasiveness and half-truths that his campaign has become known for.”
“With 41 days left, Mitt Romney has limited time to level with the American people about his record and plans for America,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. “As each day passes, he continues to fail to do that.”
In Bedford Heights, Romney held a roundtable discussion about the economy and manufacturing policies. His guest speakers were all owners, presidents or corporate treasurers of Ohio companies.
Asked whether any rank-and-file workers or mid-managers were invited to join Romney on stage at the roundtable, a campaign spokesman said no. The spokesman, Rick Gorka, added that it’s business owners who have to figure out how to make payroll and to decide whether to hire or fire workers.
In his morning rally, though, Romney did try to demonstrate that he understands the struggles of everyday Americans after a video surfaced last week showing him at a private fundraiser with wealthy donors dismissing “the 47 percent” of Americans who do not pay taxes.
At Wednesday morning’s rally, Romney said, “My heart aches for the people I’ve seen,” noting that on the campaign trail the day before, a woman in her 50s told him she had been out of work since May, had not seen any prospects and needed his help.
“There are so many people in our country that are hurting right now. I want to help them,” Romney said. He added: “I know what it takes to get this economy going again. I care about the people of America. And the difference between me and President Obama is I know what to do and I will do what it takes to get this economy going.”
Nicklaus touched on similar themes during his lengthy introduction of Romney. He drew similarities between his golf career and the country’s trajectory. At the start of the 1970 season, Nicklaus said, he had gone three years without winning a major championship, and then his father passed away.
“I went through a lot of reflection, self-discovery and began to look at the person I was or wasn’t,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t living up to what my father expected of me. It was my moment of recognition. I reinvented myself, worked harder than I had ever worked, and the result was some of the most successful years of my career.”
Nicklaus said the country is at that point. “We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he told the crowd in Westerville. “We have to look at problems at hand and change them.”