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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The big attraction in Ohio this time of year: football. The Buckeyes, the Bobcats, the Bengals, the Browns. But every four years, the presidential campaigns roll into Ohio with their own ground games, advertizing blitzes and game plans. And for Republican candidate Mitt Romney, the stakes are especially high. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. NPR's Don Gonyea has this report.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: All of the latest polls give the president a lead in Ohio, ranging from a single point to as many as ten. Still, both sides are treating it like the ultimate battleground, the tally of candidate visits grows daily.
MITT ROMNEY: We're in Toledo, right. So it's O-H?
ROMNEY: OK. That's where we are.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Kent State.
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GONYEA: The running mates are coming s well. Paul Ryan will be in Ohio again today. Tuesday, he was in Vandalia.
PAUL RYAN: I've got my lucky buckeye.
GONYEA: Not to be left out, the vice president.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm back in Dayton, Ohio.
GONYEA: And don't forget all the ads from the campaigns and from outside groups that have saturated TV and radio. In Ohio, the economy is the top issue. The state has a big manufacturing sector with a lot of jobs tied to the automobile industry. The president likes to pair his support of the federal auto bailout with Mitt Romney's 2008 statement, let Detroit go bankrupt.
OBAMA: And so we said, no, you know, this may be hard and it may not be popular, but we're going to bet on American workers. We're going to bet on American manufacturing. And you know what? Today, the American auto industry has come roaring back.
GONYEA: Meanwhile, Romney's discussion of jobs often turns to trade like these remarks from Tuesday in a suburb of Dayton.
ROMNEY: I'm not afraid of trading with other nations. I understand that when we trade and when other nations trade on a fair basis, we will compete, we will win, we'll raise wages here, we'll create jobs.
GONYEA: Part of the problem for Romney in Ohio is that the state jobless rate has fallen over the past four years. It's currently 7.2 percent, almost a point below the national average. At a rally in Westerville, Ohio Wednesday, Republican Governor John Kasich, in support of Romney, was boasting of how his GOP policies have helped the state.
GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH: From 48th in job creation to number 4, number one in the Midwest. From 89 cents in a rainy day fund to a half a billion dollars and we have grown a 123,000 jobs in the state of Ohio. Our families are going back to work.
GONYEA: But numbers that are good for Kasich are also a plus for President Obama, and perhaps a big reason he's leading in the state. It's fair to say winning Ohio is more important to Republicans than Democrats. If Mr. Obama loses the state, he's still got a variety of other paths he can take to victory.
But Daron Shaw, author of the book "The Race to 270," says if Romney loses Ohio he'd have to win Florida and Virginia, plus three or four of the remaining smaller toss-ups to get enough electoral votes to win.
DARON SHAW: Maybe the easiest way to think of it is, you know, if I have a 50/50 chance in every one of these other battleground states - a coin flip, essentially - I've got to get real fortunate to win a series of coin flips. I've got to win a coin flip in Nevada, a coin flip in Colorado, a coin flip - you know, keep going, right? And the chances for a stumble somewhere along the line are pretty great, which means your overall odds are really tough.
GONYEA: That's what the Obama campaign wants to force. It's what the Romney campaign hopes to avoid. And it's why both candidates will continue to be frequent visitors to Ohio right up till Election Day.
Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.