WHITE HOUSE — Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are campaigning in Ohio, a state that analysts agree is crucial in this year’s campaign. New public opinion polls show the president taking the lead in Ohio.
As he has so many times in the past few months, President Obama gave a campaign speech Wednesday at a university campus in Ohio.
“You may have noticed that there is an election going on here in Ohio," said President Obama.
At Bowling Green State University, as he would later at Kent State University, Obama encouraged students to vote.
Young voters and the middle class were key parts of the coalition that elected Obama in 2008, and he is depending on their support again this year.
In a state where as many as one in every eight jobs is related to the auto industry, the president defended his trade policy toward China.
“We have brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two. And by the way, we have been winning those cases. We stood up for auto workers against unfair trade practices," said Obama.
Romney also was in Ohio Wednesday. He said the president is not tough enough on China when it comes to trade, and that if elected, he will press Beijing harder.
“We are going to open up more trade where we can compete fairly, but we are going to crack down on China when they cheat. They have stolen our jobs and that has got to stop," said Romney.
After years of economic distress, Ohio’s unemployment rate has fallen to 7.2 percent, about one full point below the national average. Experts believe that could benefit Obama, although Romney credits the drop to the policies of Ohio’s Republican governor.
Romney spoke Wednesday at rallies in the Columbus and Cleveland areas.
After spending much of last week raising money in Texas and California, the former Massachusetts governor is concentrating this week on Ohio, with a bus tour through the state’s larger cities.
Public opinion polls indicate that he may have some work to do.
Several recent polls show that Obama is beginning to increase his lead over Romney in Ohio. One survey (CBS / New York Times / Quinnipiac) has the president leading by 10 percentage points (53%-43%), and another (Washington Post) shows him ahead by eight (52%-44%).
Polls also indicate that Obama is broadening his lead in other swing states, including Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Some Romney campaign representatives have questioned the accuracy of the polls that show the president’s lead widening. Romney has expressed confidence that he can close the gap.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning a majority of Ohio’s electoral votes, and no Democrat has done so since 1960.
Ohio is the seventh-largest of the 50 states in population, and is almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Like many eastern states, Ohio has a large manufacturing base, but like many Midwestern states, it also has a large agricultural economy.
Obama has visited Ohio 29 times during his presidency. He marked the formal start of his re-election campaign with a rally at Ohio State University in April.
The Romney campaign says the governor has visited 10 times since May 1, and seven times during the Republican primaries.
Although the election is about six weeks away, early voting and absentee voting in Ohio begin less than a week from now, before the first of the debates between the two presidential candidates.