WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he understands the struggles of working families and has the know-how to fix them as he sought to counteract fallout from a secret video that President Barack Obama is highlighting in campaign ads.
With polls showing the president ahead in key swing states that will decide the race, the White House expressed confidence. "As time progresses, you know, the field is looking like it's narrowing for them," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed for his own rallies in Ohio. "And so in that sense we'd rather be us than them."
Obama was stopping at two college campuses in the hunt for the state's 18 electoral votes, while Romney was here for a second straight day on a bus emblazoned with, "More Jobs, More Take-Home Pay." Losing the state would dramatically narrow Romney's path to the 270 Electoral College votes it takes to win the White House — and no Republican has ever lost Ohio and won the presidency.
Romney stood in front of a running national debt clock and cited his business background as evidence that he knows what it takes to drive economic success. Romney's appeal follows the Obama campaign's sustained effort to portray him as a ruthless corporate titan who killed jobs, as well as recent Obama campaign ads featuring video of the GOP nominee telling donors he doesn't need to worry about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes and "believe that they are victims."
"I care about the people of America. The difference between me and President Obama is I know what to do and I will do what it takes to get this economy going," Romney said to a standing ovation from supporters in this Columbus suburb.
Romney also released a 60-second television ad with a new, softer approach than the negative ads dominating the airways. It's unclear how much — if at all — the commercial will air on television, but it echoed Romney's compassionate pitch from the campaign trial. The candidate, in an open-collar shirt, speaks into the camera about the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck and trying to pay for necessities like food and gas on falling incomes.
"President Obama and I both care about poor and middle-class families," Romney says. "The difference is my policies will make things better for them."
And Romney's new insistence that he's the better candidate to help middle-class families comes after his campaign's recent announcement that he'll do more to describe what he would do as president. At his morning rally, Romney focused on Obama's handling of the debt and the interest piling up.
"The interest that you're paying on that debt every year is more than we pay for housing, for agriculture, for education and transportation combined," Romney said.
"What's going to happen when those interest rates go up? That bill's going to get bigger and bigger. It's crushing," Romney said.
Romney's comments follow a Washington Post poll that shows the federal debt and deficit are the one set of issues on which he has an advantage over Obama with likely voters. In recent weeks, Romney has lost his polling edge on the economy generally, with more people saying they now trust Obama to fix the nation's economic woes.
In the Ohio gymnasium, Romney ran through his five-point plan to help fix the economy. He recounted meeting a woman who was struggling amid the prolonged recession. He said he told her: "I'm going to do my very best to help you and millions like you."
The gym couldn't hold all the people who came to see Romney at Alum Creek Park, and he stopped by an overflow room to shake hands with those who couldn't get in to see him in person. As he was leaving, one supporter told him: "Please get us out of this mess."
Introducing Romney was golfing great Jack Nicklaus, an Ohio native. Romney's campaign produced signs that read, "The Golden Bear for Romney/Ryan," featuring the campaign logo and a silhouette of Nicklaus swinging a club. "I certainly didn't apologize for my success," Nicklaus told the audience to cheers.
Obama left the White House Wednesday morning to travel to campaign rallies at Bowling Green State and Kent State universities, hoping to generate the kind of enthusiasm among young voters that helped fuel his victory four years ago. Romney focused on major metropolitan areas of the state where large numbers of voters live.
Both candidates recognize the importance of Ohio's 18 electoral votes to determining the election outcome on Nov. 6.
Buoyed by signs of an improving economy, Obama has the edge in polls in Ohio six weeks from Election Day. The president has led Romney in a series of recent surveys in the state, with a Washington Post poll on Tuesday showing Obama with a lead that was outside the poll's margin of error. A CBS/New York Times poll also showed Obama ahead here. Even on handling of the economy, where Romney until recently had an advantage, Obama now leads.
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.