CELINA, Ohio — As a newly released poll shows a dead heat between President Obama and Mitt Romney in this critical battleground state, the GOP ticket is barnstorming Ohio on Sunday and saying they feel surging momentum in the closing days of the campaign.
"I'm heartened by what we're seeing across the country — large crowds of independents, some Democrats, a lot of Republicans, coming together and enthusiastically getting behind this campaign,” Romney told thousands of cheering supporters in a basketball field house here. “And they know what's at stake. They know this is a big election about big things; they recognize that we face enormous challenges as a nation and we also have huge opportunities, and they want to us grab a hold of these opportunities and finally confront the challenges.”
Romney was originally scheduled to campaign in Virginia on Sunday but canceled his events there because the state is preparing for Hurricane Sandy. Romney joined running mate Paul Ryan on an Ohio bus tour.
“You guys, you got clear eyes, full hearts, and on Nov. 6, we can’t lose,” Romney said, referencing a motto in the television show “Friday Night Lights” that the show’s creator has asked him to stop using. “Paul Ryan and I will not fail you!”
Their appearances come the day after the release of a poll showing the men tied 49-49 in Ohio, a state that is vital on the path to the White House. No Republican has been elected president without winning here. A month ago, Obama held a five-point lead here in the same poll by the Ohio Newspaper Organization. Romney’s rise is driven by a shift among independents.
A separate poll by CNN shows Obama retains a four-point lead.
Republican Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said the tightness of the race meant supporters needed to give it their all in the campaign’s closing days.
“It’s the fourth quarter. It’s a tie game but we’re in the red zone, folks, we’ve got the momentum on our side. Are we going to take Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan over the line?” Portman said. “We’ve got to provide the blocking and tackling. … These next nine days, we’ve got to be sure we leave everything on the field, do everything we can, because it’s too important for our families, for our state and for our country.”
Romney said the reelection of Obama would represent a continuation of the status quo, while he represents true change, language virtually identical to that Obama used in his 2008 campaign.
“His campaign slogan is forward. Forward on the same path. And I ask you: Do you want more four more years with 23 million Americans looking for a good job” he asked, and the crowd screamed “No!” “I mean, do you want four more years with trillion-dollar deficits? Do you want four more years where half kids coming out of school can’t find a job? Do you want four more years with Obamacare?”
Saying that his policies would directly impacts families’ lives, Romney noted that there were many children in the crowd sitting on their parents’ shoulders.
“It also makes a difference for you in your home, in your life, as an individual. For that guy on the shoulders. And that guy on the shoulders! There are all sorts of guys on shoulders here. This young lady on shoulders!” he said, before pointing to a young boy wearing a Captain American costume and carrying a sign that said “Captain Romney for America.” “We’ve got Captain America over here, yeah! Captain, Paul Ryan and I are joining your team real soon, all right?”
Romney and Ryan campaigned in a deep-red part of Ohio, and their next two stops are in conservative districts as well. But they stressed bipartisanship, such as Romney’s experiences working with Democrats while governor of Massachusetts, or Ryan working with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Medicare reform.
“I know there’s good Democrats that love America just like we do. I want to reach across the aisle to them, work together, putting the interests of the people ahead of the politicians,” Romney said. “We’ve got to do this. It’s too critical of a time. We can’t change course unless we change the way Washington’s working.”
The Obama campaign said Romney’s track record suggests otherwise, and noted that Wyden himself had denounced attempts to link him to Ryan as “talking nonsense.”
“The American people can’t trust a word Mitt Romney says, especially when he claims he’d work across the aisle as president,” said spokesman Danny Kanner.
Times staff writer Alana Semuels contributed to this report