Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, left, and presidential nominee Mitt Romney talk aboard their campaign plane en route to Colorado Tuesday after an appearance in Henderson, Nev. (Melina Mara/THE WASHINGTON POST)

As the campaign for the White House enters the final stretch and both campaigns focus on just a handful of states, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan will address upward mobility and the economy in Ohio Wednesday afternoon.

The speech, set for Cleveland State University, comes as Mitt Romney and President Obama are locked in a tight battle for the Buckeye State’s 18 electoral votes, a haul that could determine who wins on Nov. 6.

Polls show Romney leading Obama in some national polls and in several big swing states, among them Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, and gaining in Ohio, a state where the Obama campaign and Democratic allies have focused sharply on Romney’s business background, his opposition to the auto bailout, and his comments that 47 percent of Americans see themselves as victims.

In an afternoon speech, Ryan is set to highlight a different side of Romney, framing him as a compassionate conservative.

“As for Mitt Romney, he not only understands the importance of community — he’s lived it. He’s a guy who, at the height of a successful business, took the time to serve as a lay pastor for his church for 14 years, counseling people in Boston’s inner-city neighborhoods, especially when they lost a job,” Ryan will say according to excerpts released by the campaign. “He’s a man who could easily have contented himself with giving donations to needy causes, but everyone who knows him will tell you that Mitt has always given his time and attention to those around him who are hurting.”

Over the last weeks after a strong first debate against a lackluster Obama, Romney has shifted to a more moderate tone, modifying his positions on immigration, education, abortion, foreign policy and health care.

And both campaigns have launched aggressive efforts to court women voters, who in 2008 made up 52 percent of the electorate, and will likely vote in higher numbers in November.

Romney has been able to narrow the gap among women with Obama, whittling it down to single digits in some polls where he had previously seen double digit deficits.

In the new Washington Post-ABC News national poll, 51 percent of women back Obama and 44 percent support Romney, with the seven-point margin a numerical, but not statistically significant, advantage for the president.

Romney is also doing better in terms of how people perceive him — in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 51 percent of likley voters said that Obama is better able to understand the economic problems that people are having, compared to 44 percent for Romney. The gap was 13 points in late September.

Obama and his Democratic allies hammered Romney after a secret video surfaced of the Republican presidential candidate saying that 47 percent of Americans are victims who believe that they are entitled to food, health care, and housing.

Ryan, in his speech, will link the debt crises to poverty, arguing that poor people are especially vulnerable.

“It’s not just the abuses of government that undermine civil society — it’s also the excesses of government. Look at the road we are on, with trillion-dollar deficits every year. Debt on this scale is destructive in so many ways, and one of them is that it crowds out civil society by drawing resources away from private giving,” Ryan will say. “Even worse is the prospect of a debt crisis, which will come unless we do something very soon. When government’s own finances collapse, society’s most vulnerable are the first victims, as we are seeing right now in the troubled welfare states of Europe. Many there feel that they have nowhere to turn for help, and we must never let that happen in America.”

Romney and Ryan plan an aggressive push in Ohio, which along with Iowa and Wisconsin are seen as a midwestern firewall for Obama in his bid for re-election.

Polls show him narrowly leading in all three states, but well within the margin of error.

The Romney campaign has made the economy the central focus of their efforts and the former Massachusetts governor is set to barnstorm the state in the coming days, with Ryan seeking to put a softer edge on Romney the businessman by focusing on poverty in his Wednesday afternoon speech.

“We are here in partnership on behalf of an idea — that no matter who your parents are, no matter where you come from, you should have the opportunity in America to rise, to escape from poverty, and to achieve whatever your God-given talents and hard work enable you to achieve,” Ryan will say. “Upward mobility is the central promise of life in America. But right now, America’s engines of upward mobility aren’t working the way they should. Mitt Romney and I are running because we believe that Americans are better off in a dynamic, free-enterprise-based economy that fosters economic growth, opportunity and upward mobility instead of a stagnant, government-directed economy that stifles job creation and fosters government dependency.”