Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan completed the initial leg of their bus tour across battleground Ohio. The GOP forces added an element of celebrity that may help shore up their base, and they encountered voting blocs that Romney must attract to win the state. Based on recent poll numbers here in the Buckeye State, both are necessary.
Ryan began yesterday at a town hall the Byer Steel Group in Cincinnati’s industrial, heavily Catholic west side. Roughly 450 Republican supporters gathered at the company warehouse. After the campaign bus marked “More Jobs, More Take-home Pay” dramatically entered, Kentucky senator Rand Paul introduced Ryan.
The vice presidential candidate was comfortable and in his element. Though noticeably shaken from his Green Bay Packers loss the night before, after the NFL’s replacement referees’ worst call yet, Ryan found a useful analogy. Just as the time has arrived to remove the striped stand-ins on the professional gridiron, it’s time to replace an ineffective president. The welcoming GOP crowd strongly agreed. The VP candidate entertained questions and took to explaining the debt and deficit with charts and graphs. We can expect more of Power Point Paul connecting on finance in days to come.
Ryan wrapped up and headed northward toward to meet Romney. At the Dayton Airport, a slightly larger crowd awaited the Republican duo. Country singer Lee Greenwood sang some of his more patriotic numbers. He proudly proclaimed his conservatism and reverence for God. Before performing “I’m Proud To Be An American,” he declared, “I’ve played this song for four presidents, now I am going to play it for the next president!”
After an intermission amid threatening weather, Romney’s plane taxied to the crowd. Senator Rob Portman energetically took the mic, flanked by Senator Paul, and the two atop the ticket. When it was Ryan’s turn to speak, he whipped out what he termed his “lucky buckeye,” a gift from Portman, and then sternly declared, “We will win Ohio!”
When Romney took center stage he appealed to the anti-stimulus, strong military, supply-side crowd. “When I am president I will not cut our military budget,” he promised, saying the USA will be “second to none.” He pointed to the liberal paternalism of the opposition and the ineffective Washington bureaucracy and regulatory state. “They will tell you how to live your life, how to pick winners … Somehow they know better.”
The Romney-Ryan team seemed focused on reaching elements of the traditional Republican base and likely see an opportunity to grab disaffected 2008 Obama voters. The other headliners may have sparked greater interest in conservative sub groups. Greenwood has a niche appeal to Ohio’s value voters. Rand Paul, for his part, likely appealed to the libertarians in the Republican party. Burk Byer, the CEO of the family business, told of his grandfather arriving from Russia and founding a recycling company 100 years ago that evolved into Byer Steel.
“I need you to find people that voted for Barack Obama,” said Romney, and encourage them to change their vote this time around.
Had Romney or his pollsters seen those asking questions at the earlier town hall, they might have been encouraged. A self-described Republican Latina immigrant asked Ryan to address the immigration question and explain where the GOP stands. A Roman Catholic priest concerned with the erosion of religious liberty, asks him how things would go in a Romney-Ryan administration. An 18-year-old college female criticized Obama mildly then asked about post-college costs for graduates. The final question came from Barry Silver, an Orthodox Jew and former Obama supporter. He’s not keen on Romney, but his concern for the U.S. Middle East policy, the president’s shaky relationship with Israel, and the handling of the embassies in the Arab world, Silver tells me, has sent him toward Romney.
In Dayton, Romney hailed the benefits of open trade, but maintained that such an international system requires rules and enforcement. With his debate-prep partner and former U.S. trade rep Portman standing right behind him, he chided the Chinese. “China has cheated and I will not allow that to continue.” This statement received acclaim in this controlled crowd, but meanwhile Obama is running a poignant TV ad that labels Romney an outsourcer and questions his potential as a hardliner against China. To earn the reputation he wants on this issue, Romney will have to continue this line in what is the most coveted state in the Rustbelt. The campaign departed toward Columbus and then will visit the rather blue Cleveland.
David Wolfford teaches government and politics in Cincinnati.