Mitt Romney and Barack Obama held rallies only 25 miles apart in Northeast Ohio yesterday -- even as the gap between them in the polls grew. Romney's Bedford Heights appearance reflected his effort to open up to voters more, while Obama rallied like a front-runner before a psyched-up young crowd at Kent State University.
At Romney's Bedford Heights rally, the candidate fielded questions from audience members about manufacturing and jobs, health care and skilled workforces. (You can read our coverage here.) He also gave interviews to the Plain Dealer, CBS, ABC, and NBC while in Ohio yesterday. It was part of his effort to spend less time fund-raising and more time appealing directly to voters -- "Romney rescue plan: More Mitt," Politico summarized last week. He's trying to reverse the damaged caused by his comments on the "47 percent" secret video.
Talking to the PD's Henry Gomez, Romney said he needs to win over voters who supported Obama in 2008. He defended his position on the auto bailout, saying he'd supported a managed bankruptcy and had not opposed government aid to GM and Chrysler. He also staked out a moderate position on regulating coal plants. To NBC, Romney cited the universal health-care law he signed in Massachusetts as an example of his empathy for struggling people. He told CBS that he thought the Obama campaign had engaged in "character assassination" of him, but that he wouldn't attack the president harder in response.
To ABC, Romney mostly defended himself from the fallout of his "47 percent" comments, in which he appeared to say almost half of voters won't vote for him because they're dependent on government. Polls have shown him losing ground against Obama since the video surfaced. One poll released yesterday shows Romney 10 points behind Obama in swing-state Ohio, though Obama is up 5.4 percent in an average of all Ohio polls.
In Kent, Obama exuded a front-runner's confidence as he delivered a speech meant to energize support among young voters, a key part of his 2008 coalition. The campaign chose its venue wisely; Kent State journalism students blasted out multimedia saturation coverage, live-blogging, tweeting, and posting multiple articles.
The president described his work to expand student loans and lower their costs. "No family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don’t have the money," he said. He slammed Romney on the issue of women's reproductive rights. He promised that drilling for shale gas in Ohio would continue, while also declaring his support for renewable energy. And despite Romney's protests that his and Obama's positions on the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies weren't as different as Democrats claim, Obama continued to cite the auto bailout as a defining accomplishment.
Most observers think Romney can't win the presidency without winning Ohio. His visit here yesterday showed he's got a comeback strategy. But his change of direction, contrasted with Obama's confident rally, highlighted the fact that his chances in Ohio have grown slim.