Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated where the GOP ticket held a joint rally. It was in Vandalia. An earlier version also omitted the number of Obama field offices in the state. It is 100.
VANDALIA, Ohio – Trailing President Obama by 8 percentage points in this pivotal battleground state, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are pulling out all the stops on a two-day, five-city bus tour in hopes of making up important political ground.
Romney flew to Ohio after spending the morning talking foreign policy and education in New York City. He and Ryan kicked off the bus tour with an afternoon rally here. Both projected confidence to a crowd of more than 3,500 people who waited at the Dayton airport for hours to see the candidates.
“We are going to win Ohio,” Ryan told the crowd.
“If I’m president of the United States,” Romney started to say, and then corrected himself as the crowd yelled in protest: “When I’m president of the United States …”
Romney, who has called for across-the-board cuts in the federal income tax, said President Obama will spend a second term raising taxes. “He’s got one new, one new idea,” Romney said. “I admit this, he has one thing he did not do in his first four years (that) he said he’s going to do in the next four years, which is to raise taxes.”
In a nod to a manufacturing state that saw a steep decline in production during the recent recession, Romney promised to crack down on China for manipulating its currency, which he said is driving down the prices of its goods and destroying U.S. factory jobs. He also called out China for what he called routine theft of the intellectual property of American companies.
“We cannot compete with people who don't play fair and I won’t let that go on,” he said. “I will stop it in its tracks.”
Standing alongside the two candidates on the stage was tea party hero Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a one-time leading contender for the vice presidential slot. Portman urged the crowd to take advantage of early voting in the state, which begins Oct. 2.
“The best thing we can do right now is bank votes,” Portman said, noting that absentee ballots were being passed out at the event. “So vote absentee, take advantage of it and be sure you’re getting the word out. … Tell them we need their vote and we need it now.”
Meanwhile, Romney campaign advisers downplayed the relevance of the Washington Post poll, the latest in a series that show Romney behind in Ohio.
“You take all these polls on average, and we still believe that it’s a margin-of-error race,” senior adviser Kevin Madden told reporters following the first stop of the bus tour.
Political Director Rich Beeson suggested that the campaign’s own internal polling shows a much closer race. “The public polls are what the public polls are,” he said. “I kinda hope the Obama campaign is basing their campaign on what the public polls say. We don’t. We have confidence in our data and our metrics.”
The Romney campaign has been struggling to match the Obama campaign's ground game in Ohio, which includes 100 field offices staffed by volunteers compared to 40 field offices opened by the Republican challenger. But Beeson said a more important measure of success on the ground is not in the number of offices, but in the quality and number of contacts with voters. The Romney campaign is well on its way toward hitting its goal of knocking on 10 million doors in target states before Election Day, he said.
“They have 100 offices and I think they’re making the mistake of mistaking action for progress,” Beeson told reporters aboard the flight to Ohio. “Again, they’re the reigning champs. They won. But I will put our operation up against anybody’s.”
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in response to Romney’s comments on Tuesday: “Just a few years ago, Romney said that the president’s decision to stand up to China on behalf of American workers in the tire industry was ‘protectionism’ and ‘decidedly bad for the nation and our workers.’ In the private sector, he invested in companies that shipped American jobs to China. And we now know that, for years, Mitt Romney has invested in Chinese companies and profited off of their success. When it comes to China, Mitt Romney isn’t a trade warrior, he’s a paper tiger.”