ABOARD THE ROMNEY CAMPAIGN BUS, OHIO—As Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan kicked off a two-day bus tour through the critical swing state of Ohio on Wednesday, they were greeted with some unfortunate news: a new Washington Post poll giving President Obama an eight-point lead.
How critical is the Buckeye State to the GOP prospects? No Republican has won the White House without it. So Romney and Ryan may have joined forces at just the right time to rally the faithful on a drizzly and overcast afternoon at an airstrip outside Dayton. The event marked the first time the two have campaigned together since the convention and came amid grumbling in some quarters that rather than the Ryan pick enlivening the Romney operation, the Romney operation was sapping the energy of the youthful Ryan.
To mark the occasion, the two bounded up on stage to the tune of “The Boys Are Back in Town.” Standing in front of their nearly nose-to-nose campaign planes—and the bus that was to take them around the state, emblazoned with the words “More Jobs, More Take Home Pay”—the duo launched into a stinging indictment of the Obama administration.
“Our choice is do we stay on the same path we are on, the one that Obama put us on, a nation in debt, in doubt and decline, or do we reclaim those founding principles that made us so great in the first place,” Ryan said over cries of “Liar!” at every mention of the president’s name.
When Romney came to the mic, he stopped the crowd from chanting his name.
“Wait a second, listen: Romney—Ryan, Romney—Ryan, Romney—Ryan!” he told the crowd.
The governor gave a shout-out to Lee Greenwood, the country singer whose anthem “God Bless the USA” (often—no, always—mistakenly called “Proud to Be an American”) has become the “Okie From Muskogee” of this election cycle.
“Lee Greenwood. Where is Lee Greenwood? Don’t know where he is but I heard him. There here is, right there. Proud to be an American. Thank you, sir. Thank you one more time. This guy. He sang it right, he said it right. I am proud to be an American.”
Calling the race a battle for “the soul of America,” his red-jacketed arm punching the gray sky, Romney said Obama’s “vision for government is entirely foreign to anything this nation has ever known.”
The Obama administration is committed to raising taxes on small businesses, he said, telling the story of an entrepreneur who, when he calculated federal income tax, federal payroll tax, state income tax, state sales tax, gas taxes, and real-estate taxes, pays more than 50 percent of his revenue to the various governments.
“We are by any stretch inside the margin of error in Ohio, and the Obama campaign is going to have some problems there.”
“You think about this,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “You think about the risk of starting an enterprise that is going to hire new people when you know you haven’t even got a 50–50 chance that the business will succeed, because most small businesses, they struggle, they don’t make it. So you know you might lose your money, but if you are successful the government wants half of what you make. And what’s the president’s plan for small business? Raise taxes further!”
He wondered aloud, too, at the youngsters who still seem to flock to his opponent.
“How in the world these kids think they ought to vote for Barack Obama is beyond me. It’s like, look at your friends. Half of you can’t find work. Don’t you understand where he is taking this country?”
It wouldn’t have been a Romney rally, however, without at least one instance of the candidate straying off-message, and at one point he seemed to suggest that Obama had not raised taxes in his first term, a statement that flies in the face of GOP messaging calling the Obamacare mandate penalty a tax.
“I admit this, he has one thing he did not do in his first four years, he has said he is going to do it in his next four years, which is to raise taxes,” Romney said.
Afterward, ABC News reported that Ryan appeared to “wince” as he stood behind his running mate.
Earlier in the day, the campaign had dispatched political director Rich Beeson to the back of the campaign plane as it cruised to Dayton, to settle a few matters.
That poll all the press wanted to know about was misleading, he said. “We are basing our decisions on what our polls say, not The Washington Post’s,” he sniffed.
The Obama campaign, Beeson said, was “spiking the football on the 30-yard line.” “There are still 42 days to go,” he said. “We are by any stretch inside the margin of error in Ohio, and the Obama campaign is going to have some problems there.”
The key, he said, was the ground game, never mind for the moment that the Obama campaign has about twice as many field offices in the state.
“They are mistaking action for progress,” Beeson said.
And as for the big question—whether they have a path to victory without Ohio—the longtime GOP operative turned to poetry: “If its and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”
“We aren’t in a situation where we are forced into a box canyon and we have to win a string of states,” he added.