POWELL, Ohio — Republican White House hopefuls Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan rallied a crowd of more than 5,000 supporters in this battleground state Saturday morning, seeking to drive home their critique of President Obama’s leadership on the economy in their final joint campaign appearance before the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Taking the stage with Ryan for the first time in Ohio since he tapped the Wisconsin congressman as his running mate two weeks ago, Romney sought to mount a preemptive strike against the Democratic National Convention speech that Obama is set to deliver in Charlotte early next month, arguing that the president will have “all sorts of marvelous things to say” but that voters should pay heed to his record, not his rhetoric.
“They’ve experienced the last four years, and they know if they reelect him they’ll get four more years of the same,” Romney told supporters gathered at the Village Green Park in this upscale suburb northwest of Columbus. “It is not his words that people have to listen to; it is his action and his record, and if they look at that, they’ll kick him out of the office and put people into the office that will actually get America going again.”
The message was part of a ramped-up effort by Romney and Ryan in recent days to appeal to voters hit by the country’s economic downturn. Ohio’s 7.3 percent unemployment rate is below the national average of 8.2 percent, but polling shows that economic recovery remains the top issue; 59 percent of likely Ohio voters ranked the economy as “extremely important” in a New York Times/CBS News/Quinnipiac University poll released this week.
Economic issues were also the focus of Romney’s weekly podcast, released Saturday morning, in which he noted that “in 44 states last month, the unemployment rate went up.”
Obama won Ohio by five percentage points in the 2008 general election, and if Romney is to win the state this November, he will need to energize voters in places such as Delaware County, where Powell is located; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried the county with 59 percent of the vote four years ago.
In seeking to draw a contrast between Obama and the GOP ticket, Romney and Ryan pointed to newly released economic data and seized on remarks made by the president on the campaign trail in recent weeks, as well as four years ago.
Ryan, who took the stage here before Romney, cited a report released this week by the firm Sentier Research showing that annual median household income has dropped more steeply during the economic recovery than during the recession itself.
“Family income — we just saw some new, really ugly statistics this morning about how the middle class has been hit so hard in the last three-and-a-half years,” Ryan said. “Family household incomes have gone down by more than $4,000 in the last four years. Under Mitt Romney’s leadership, when he was governor of Massachusetts, they went up by $5,000.”
He and Romney slammed Obama yet again for his “you didn’t build that” remark at a Roanoke, Va., campaign rally, and Ryan also reprised a line he has employed at recent campaign events in Pennsylvania and Michigan, telling the crowd that “this Catholic deer hunter is guilty as charged.”
The remark was a response to Obama’s comment at a closed-door San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 that some voters “cling to their guns or religion.”
Ryan, who is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, added on Saturday: “And by the way, you got some big deer here in Ohio. I spent four years hunting here in Ohio. You got some big deer.”
He made another personal allusion Saturday as he argued that Obama believes “the economic pie is fixed, that one person’s gain necessarily comes at another person’s loss.”
“That’s a bunch of baloney — and I’m not talking about Oscar Mayer baloney — that’s just a bunch of baloney!” said the Wisconsin congressman, who as a young man worked as an Oscar Mayer salesman and at one time drove the company’s famous Wienermobile.
After a week dominated by news of embattled Missouri Senate nominee Todd Akin’s (R) remark that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy, Romney also sought Saturday to issue a sharper appeal to women, particularly women who want to start their own businesses.
“Just a word to the women entrepreneurs out there,” Romney said. “If we become president and vice president, we want to speak to you, we want to help you. Women in this country are more likely to start businesses than men. Women need our help.”
In contrast to his remarks at a joint event with Ryan in Michigan on Friday, Romney made no reference to his or Obama’s birth certificates.
But attendees were offered a reminder of Romney’s comments in the form of a gramatically incorrect banner flown by an airplane that circled the rally overhead.
“America is Better Then Birtherism,” the banner read. It was unclear who had sponsored the plane; the progressive group MoveOn.org has sponsored similar planes at recent Romney-Ryan rallies bearing messages related to the Akin controversy, Romney’s tax returns and other issues.
As the GOP White House aspirants rallied the enthusiastic crowd, several dozen demonstrators marched behind a fence just beyond the gathering, loudly chanting slogans such as “Hands off Medicare!” and “Ryan, go home!”
Romney seized on the momentary disruption to make a point about Obama, who in 2008 famously delivered his convention speech in front of a set that included Greek-style columns.
“This is kind of like the Greek chorus in the background,” Romney quipped. He then added of the Democrats: “Everything they do reminds us of Greece, and we’re not going to go there.”