WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he understands the struggles of working families and has the know-how to fix them as he sought to counteract fallout from a secret video that President Barack Obama won't let him live down.
With polls showing the president ahead in key swing states that will decide the race, the White House expressed confidence. "As time progresses, you know, the field is looking like it's narrowing for them," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed for his own rallies in Ohio. "And so in that sense we'd rather be us than them."
Obama was stopping at two college campuses in the hunt for the state's 18 electoral votes, while Romney was here for a second straight day on a bus emblazoned with, "More Jobs, More Take-Home Pay." Losing the state would dramatically narrow Romney's path to the 270 Electoral College votes it takes to win the White House — and no Republican has ever lost Ohio and won the presidency.
Romney's pitch for working-class men was far from subtle. He campaigned at a factory that makes commercial spring wire, touring the noisy plant floor in goggles and rolled-up shirt sleeves alongside television's king of macho, Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe. The pair spoke later from a stage set with hard hat-wearing workers, giant coils of steel wire, open metal cross beams and yellow caution signs in the background.
The economy during Obama's presidency has been especially hard on male blue-collar workers. But secretly recorded video of Romney telling donors he doesn't need to worry about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes and "believe that they are victims" has distracted from his argument that blue-collar men should throw Obama out over his fiscal record.
Obama continued to remind voters of Romney's secretly recorded remarks in television ads and a speech at Bowling Green State University.
"Look, I don't believe we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims who never take responsibility for their own lives," Obama said. "I've got to tell you, as I travel around Ohio and as I look out on this crowd, I don't see a lot of victims. I see hard working Ohioans."
At an earlier stop outside Columbus, Romney touted his business experience as reason he can do better. "I care about the people of America. The difference between me and President Obama is I know what to do and I will do what it takes to get this economy going," Romney said to a standing ovation from supporters.
Romney also released a 60-second television ad with a new, softer approach than the negative ads dominating the airways. It's unclear how much — if at all — the commercial will air on television, but it echoed Romney's compassionate pitch from the campaign trial. The candidate, in an open-collar shirt, speaks into the camera about the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck and trying to pay for necessities like food and gas on falling incomes.
"President Obama and I both care about poor and middle-class families," Romney says. "The difference is my policies will make things better for them."
And Romney's new insistence that he's the better candidate to help middle-class families comes after his campaign's recent announcement that he'll do more to describe what he would do as president. At his morning rally, Romney stood in front of a running national debt clock and focused on Obama's handling of the debt and the interest piling up.
Romney's comments follow a Washington Post poll that shows the federal debt and deficit are the one set of issues on which he has an advantage over Obama with likely voters. In recent weeks, Romney has lost his polling edge on the economy generally, with more people saying they now trust Obama to fix the nation's economic woes.
The gym couldn't hold all the people who came to see Romney at Alum Creek Park, and he stopped by an overflow room to shake hands with those who couldn't get in to see him in person. As he was leaving, one supporter told him: "Please get us out of this mess."
Introducing Romney was golfing great Jack Nicklaus, an Ohio native. Romney's campaign produced signs that read, "The Golden Bear for Romney/Ryan," featuring the campaign logo and a silhouette of Nicklaus swinging a club. "I certainly didn't apologize for my success," Nicklaus told the audience to cheers.
Obama planned to campaign later Wednesday at Kent State University, hoping to generate the kind of enthusiasm among young voters that helped fuel his victory four years ago. Romney focused on major metropolitan areas of the state where large numbers of voters live.
Buoyed by signs of an improving economy, Obama has the edge in polls in Ohio six weeks from Election Day. The president has led Romney in a series of recent surveys in the state, with a Washington Post poll on Tuesday showing Obama with a lead that was outside the poll's margin of error. A CBS/New York Times poll also showed Obama ahead here. Even on handling of the economy, where Romney until recently had an advantage, Obama now leads.
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Bowling Green, Ohio, contributed to this report.