Romney, Obama Give Dueling Speeches In Ohio
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Lorain County, Ohio, is getting a lot of political love this week. Yesterday, President Obama spoke at a community college there, and today, it was Mitt Romney's turn. He spoke at a shuttered gypsum factory. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins me now from Lorain County. And, Ari, why Lorain? What's so special about it?
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, here's somebody who can describe the community better than I can. This is John Beribak. He attended Romney's event today, and he has lived in Lorain his whole life.
JOHN BERIBAK: It used to be we get out of school here, walk around and get a great job. Now, you can see what it is - nothing. The shipyards are gone. The Ford plant is gone. The steel plant is gone. Hoping to bring it back.
SHAPIRO: Melissa, this guy had tears in his eyes as he told me about how his community has changed since he was a kid. And communities like this one are going to be key to the election. Of course, Ohio is a crucial swing state. President Obama carried it by four points last time. Everyone expects it to be a tougher fight this time. The Romney campaign is very aware that no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. And in the primary here, Romney barely squeaked out a win over Rick Santorum. So his campaign knows that they've got a lot of work to do.
Which way Ohio goes in this election may come down to how the economy is doing. And actually here in Ohio, the economy has been showing hopeful signs. Statewide unemployment is now at 7.6 percent - lower than the national average. But as you heard, in the community of Lorain, things are still really tough.
BLOCK: So, Ari, what was Mitt Romney's message to voters like John Beribak, whom we just heard?
SHAPIRO: Well, the factory where he spoke was a place where President Obama campaigned in 2008. And when President Obama arrived there, he said he would create jobs. A few weeks later, it closed during President Bush's administration. Today, Mitt Romney said the fact that the factory remains close is a sign of this president's failures.
MITT ROMNEY: Had the president's economic plans worked, President Obama's plans worked, it'd be open by now. But it's still empty. And it underscores the failure of this president's policies with regards to getting this economy going again.
BLOCK: And we mentioned that Mitt Romney's visit was coming on the heels of President Obama's trip to Lorain yesterday. Talk a bit about the president's message there.
SHAPIRO: Well, he visited a community college where workers are getting retrained for new careers and said that Republicans would eliminate programs like that worker retraining program in order to give the wealthy a tax break. His message was very different in tone from Romney's message today. While Romney mentions the president in nearly every sentence, President Obama talked instead about Republicans in general. He did make this comment.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Michelle wasn't. But somebody gave us a chance.
SHAPIRO: Now, many people interpreted that as a swipe against Romney. This afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the silver spoon comment is something that President Obama has been saying for years. Carney said anyone who thought it was a reference to them is overly sensitive.
BLOCK: And any response from Mitt Romney to that?
SHAPIRO: Well, he was on Fox News this morning where he was asked about the silver spoon comment. And here's how he responded.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
ROMNEY: I'm certainly not going to apologize for my dad and his success in life. He was born poor. He worked his way to become very successful despite the fact that he didn't have a college degree, and one of the things he wanted to do was provide for me and for my brother and sisters.
SHAPIRO: And, Melissa, here's what's going on with both of those quotes. The silver spoon comment and Mitt Romney saying his father was born poor, you've got a pair of candidates here who both have real challenges connecting with working-class voters. Both of them, President Obama and Mitt Romney, are doing everything they can to convey the message: I understand you, the voter. The other guy is out of touch. And this is going to be a major theme of this entire campaign because so many of these important swing states have huge populations of the kinds of blue-collar, working-class folks that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney is really good at reaching.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro in Lorain County, Ohio. It's where Mitt Romney spoke today and President Obama spoke yesterday. Ari, thanks very much.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.