BEDFORD HEIGHTS, Ohio – With early voting starting next week in the battleground state of Ohio, both presidential candidates courted voters there Wednesday with greater urgency, using a sport legend and China trade to make their cases.
Mitt Romney showcased his celebrity support, including golfing legend Jack Nicklaus. President Barack Obama campaigned on a college campus in northwest Ohio.
Romney, 65, is ramping up his schedule as he tries to tamp down complaints from some Republican leaders that he has spent too much time raising money. With two new polls showing Obama leading in Ohio, Romney stepped up his attacks on the incumbent during his two-day bus tour of the state, which started Tuesday and included three events Wednesday.
"We can't afford four more years like the last four years," Romney said during his second stop of the day, at a spring-wire manufacturing plant in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights. "We've got to get this economy going again."
Nicklaus, 72, known as the Golden Bear by his fans, said earlier Wednesday at a Romney rally in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus, that he likes the Republican nominee because of his free-market views.
"I didn't lean on someone else in tough times," he said of his golf game. "And when I won, I certainly didn't apologize for my success."
At the manufacturing plant, Romney was joined by Mike Rowe, best known as the host of the "Dirty Jobs" series on the Discovery Channel.
Obama, 51, focusing Wednesday on younger voters. Speaking to a largely college-age crowd of about 5,500 people at Bowling Green State University, Obama urged his audience to register and take advantage of early voting, which starts next week.
He again used Romney's words, revealed in a video recorded at a fundraiser, that 47 percent of voters view themselves as victims who are dependent on government help.
"I don't see a lot of victims, I see a lot of hard-working Ohioans," Obama said. "We don't believe in the government helping those who won't help themselves. But we do believe in opportunity."
A Washington Post poll released Tuesday showed Obama leading in the state among likely voters, 52 percent to 44 percent. The survey showed 36 percent of all Ohio voters say they have been contacted by the Obama campaign, while 29 percent said that of Romney.
The Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll released Wednesday gave Obama a 53 percent to 43 percent advantage in Ohio, including a 25-percentage-point lead among women.
"The field is looking like it's narrowing for them," Jen Psaki, an Obama re-election spokeswoman told reporters on Air Force One traveling to Ohio. "We'd rather be us than them."
After Florida, where polls show Obama with a small lead, Ohio is the second-largest state among the 10 or so that strategists from both parties say will decide the election. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio, which has 18 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed.
One of Romney's challenges is making the case for change as the economy is improving. Ohio's unemployment rate in August was 7.2 percent, lower than the national figure of 8.1 percent.
Obama, Romney and their allies aired more than 29,000 ads on Ohio television stations in the 30-day period ended Sept. 17, the most in any state.
Romney, as part of an attack on Obama's economic record at a rally Tuesday outside Dayton, said the president has been too lenient in dealing with China on trade issues.
"When people cheat, that kills jobs," he said. "China has cheated. I will not allow that to continue."
Romney has said one of five executive orders he would issue on his first day in the White House would be to direct the Treasury Department to list China as a currency manipulator.
Obama told his audience at Bowling Green that Romney's claim that he would get tough on trade with China is "just not credible."
He said the Republican's message is better than talking about "all the years he's spent profiting on companies that send our jobs to China."
White House press secretary Jay Carney earlier told reporters on the president's plane that "this president, the secretary of the Treasury and every high-level official who meets with their Chinese counterparts presses the Chinese" on the currency issue.
"We have seen some improvement on the currency situation, but not enough," Carney said.
The United States had a $295 billion trade deficit with China last year, an 8.2 percent increase over 2010. A report last month by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington said the imbalance between the world's two largest economies has resulted in the loss of 2.7 million U.S. jobs in the past decade.
Allowing the yuan to appreciate would make Chinese goods more expensive for American consumers than they are now, reducing U.S. imports of the merchandise. The currency has advanced 0.7 percent against the dollar this month, the most since December 2011.
At his Ohio event, Obama highlighted trade cases the U.S. has filed against China since he took office.
The Obama administration last week filed a challenge at the World Trade Organization accusing China of illegally subsidizing exports of automobiles and auto parts. The complaint was filed the day Obama campaigned in Ohio.
Romney and his aides said that even with Obama's lead in polls, it's too early to dismiss his chances in Ohio.
"We trust our internal polls," Rich Beeson, Romney's political director, told reporters on Romney's campaign plane. "I don't make any campaign decisions based on what I read in the Washington Post."
Beeson said Obama's campaign is displaying excess confidence, like a U.S. football player who celebrates before crossing into the end-zone for a score.
"They are sort of spiking the ball at the 30-yard line right now," he said. "There are still 42 days to go. We are, by any stretch, inside the margin of error in Ohio."
Romney is seeking to rebound from the political damage caused by the release last week of the secretly recorded video in which he told donors that 47 percent of Americans feel victimized and entitled to federal help and aren't likely to support his candidacy.
Asked about those comments in a CNN interview yesterday, Romney said he is "overwhelmingly committed to helping every American," especially those " in the middle and at the bottom that are struggling in the Obama economy."