Close Race Puts Ohio in Campaign Crosshairs

Obama and Romney crisscross the Buckeye State during their final campaign sprints.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio—Just a week ago, some political pundits were theorizing that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney might pull his advertising dollars out of Ohio, because it seemed out of reach. It marked a near death knell for his campaign, as no Republican has ever been elected president without the support of the Buckeye State.

Now, Ohio is a battleground more than ever, thanks to new polls that show President Barack Obama's once double-digit lead nearly erased. A CNN survey has Obama leading Romney, 51 percent to 47 percent. Another poll by the American Research Group puts Romney on top, 48 percent to 47 percent.

Both men are now barnstorming the state, hoping to lock up as many votes as possible before Election Day.

[READ: Campaigns Focus on Voter Turnout]

"I know it's easy to procrastinate in college, I procrastinated a lot. But we've made it easy," Obama said to a crowd of about 15,000 during a campaign stop at the Ohio State University campus. Following the event, volunteers ushered students in buses to get themselves registered to vote prior to the 9 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

For those already registered, Obama reminded them that early voting has already begun in Ohio, as well as in more than 30 other states.

"Everything we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012 and I need your help to finish what we started," he said.

[VIEW: Gallery: Obama, Romney Woo Voters in Ohio]

Romney, meanwhile, was joined by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at an event in Cuyahoga Falls, located between Cleveland and Akron. The former Massachusetts governor has three scheduled events throughout central Ohio on Wednesday, as well as one on Friday with vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan just outside Columbus.

Romney's resurgence in Ohio, propelled by a strong debate performance last week, reflects his elevated standing nationwide.

Romney, for the first time in this election, has taken the lead in RealClearPolitics.com's average of recent national polls, with a 0.7 percent edge over the president.

But Obama, in both radio and television advertisements and during his speech on Tuesday, hammered Romney on key issues that Ohio voters care about: the success of the auto bailout, tax policy, and the lowering unemployment rate.

[VIEW: Gallery: Political Cartoonists Take Apart Obama, Volley to Romney]

"We reinvented a dying auto industry that supports 1 in 8 Ohio jobs and has come roaring back to the top of the world," Obama said. "This last Friday we found out that the unemployment rate had fallen from a high of 10 percent down to 7.8 percent, the lowest ever since I took office."

And Obama revived his attacks on Romney for claiming he would reduce the deficit by cutting federal funding for public television.

The most substantive critiques Obama had for his rival were on tax policy, an issue which took up much of the time in last week's debate. Obama, citing economic studies, asserts that there are not enough tax breaks, deductions or carve-outs to pay for the 20 percent across the board cuts Romney is proposing. Democrats have also criticized Romney for declining to list any of the specific deductions he would eliminate, many of which affect the middle class.

[READ: Mitt Romney to Give Major Foreign Policy Address in Virginia]

Obama also highlighted remarks Romney at a private fundraiser, in which he said he wasn't concerned about the 47 percent of Americans who would vote for Obama no matter what.

"In 2008, 47 percent of the country didn't vote for me," Obama said. "But on the night of the election, I said to those Americans, I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices. I need your help. I'll be your president, too."

Harkening back to the famous 2004 address he made at the Democratic National Convention as an Illinois state senator, Obama made the pitch that he is a bipartisan leader.

"I'm not fighting to create Democratic jobs or Republican jobs; I'm fighting to create American jobs," he said. "I'm not fighting to improve schools in red states or blue state, I'm fighting to improve schools it the United States. The values that we are fighting for don't belong to one party or one group … they are American values. They belong to all of us."

Obama's sharpened attacks on his opponent reflect his new, more defensive position in the polling and also the winding up of the campaigning with a month to go.

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  • Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at rmetzler@usnews.com.