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Mitt Romney sees larger crowds as Obama preps for debate

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver. (Oct. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

Mitt Romney welcomed fresh enthusiasm for his campaign at events in Ohio today, as President Barack Obama hunkered down at a resort in Virginia to prepare for their debate next week.

Crowds for the Republican presidential candidate have grown since his performance in the Oct. 3 debate. Nowhere is that surge of energy clearer than in Ohio, a state where several public opinion polls show Romney gaining ground.

"His campaign is about smaller and smaller things and our campaign is about bigger and bigger crowds fighting for a bright future," the former Massachusetts governor told several thousand supporters gathered at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Obama arrived today in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he will be spending the weekend practicing for the town-hall style debate on Oct. 16 in Hempstead, New York. The president doesn't plan to hold any public campaign events until then, an indication of how seriously his campaign is taking the face-off. Obama's debate performance -- panned by Democrats and Republicans alike, paired with slipping poll numbers, has sparked criticism from inside his party about the management of his campaign.

Over the next few days, the president and his top advisers plan to spend much of their time at a golf resort along the James River in rehearsal sessions, with Democratic Massachusetts Senator John Kerry playing the role of Romney.

Romney's Debate Practice Romney also spent several hours this morning practicing for the debate with top aides, including Republican Senator Rob Portman, who is playing Obama in the sessions. Tonight, he'll fly to his home in Bedford, Massachusetts, to continue his preparations.

He concluded a week of campaign rallies today, several of which drew crowds of more than 10,000, numbers which are some of the largest of his fall campaign.

"I've had the fun of going back and forth across Ohio, and this week I was also in Florida and Iowa. I was in North Carolina and Virginia. And you know what? There is a growing crescendo of enthusiasm," Romney told a crowd of thousands that flowed from a town square to the surrounding streets at an outdoor rally in Lancaster, Ohio, yesterday, where he appeared with vice presidential running-mate Paul Ryan.

With less than four weeks remaining until the election, the campaign has entered a phase where the electoral map has narrowed to as few as nine states -- Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire -- with two debates remaining between Obama and Romney.

Focus on Ohio This week, Romney's efforts were focused on Ohio, where his campaign spent four of the last five days in the state. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, which has voted for the victor in the last 12 presidential races.

Speaking in Portsmouth today, Romney said Obama will allow unfair trade practices by China that cost jobs in manufacturing states, including Ohio.

"It's time for us to stand up to China for their cheating," he said.

Obama was trying to reach Ohio voters today, too, focusing his weekly radio and Internet address on the auto industry -- a sector that accounts for one in eight jobs in the state.

"We refused to throw in the towel and do nothing," Obama said. "GM is back. Ford and Chrysler are growing again. Together, our auto industry has created nearly a quarter of a million new jobs right here in American." Auto Industry Romney opposed using government funds to help the auto industry go through bankruptcy, a decision many industry analysts and economists have said would have been the end of the three largest auto companies.

Ohio's jobless rate was 7.2 percent in August, according to the most recent state figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, below the national rate of 7.8 percent in September. The state's improvement in economic health ranks sixth in the U.S. from the first quarter of 2011 through the first quarter this year, based on the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.

The Obama campaign also released several new advertisements in the last 24 hours, including one featuring actor Morgan Freeman. The 30-second ad, running on national cable television, notes the challenges faced by the president and highlights he successes, including killing Osama bin Laden, ending the Iraq war and rescuing the auto industry.

Hollywood Ad "There are still challenges to meet," Freeman says in the ad. "The last thing we should do is turn back now." Obama's campaign is also dispatching one of their top surrogates -- former President Bill Clinton -- to hold a rally in Parma, Ohio, with rock star Bruce Springsteen two days after the debate. This is the first Obama event this cycle for the musician, who campaigned with Obama four years ago. He will also appear on Oct. 18 in Ames, Iowa.

At Romney's final even today in Lebanon, Ohio, the campaign counted 10,700 people. Romney spoke in front of the historic Golden Lamb Inn.

Afterwards, he toured the hotel, which is owned by Portman, and visited a room named after President John Quincy Adams.

""He calls it the Golden Lamb, but I think when you look at the prices you'll determine it's the Golden Fleece," Romney said. "Actually, it's a modest price point --- I mean this like $130 a night? -- for history!" Portman quickly clarified: "This is about $140, I think, $150."

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