The 2012 presidential campaign honed in on Ohio today with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama descending on the state for campaign events. The state is pivotal: No Republican has won the White House in modern times without it.
Romney built his argument to Ohioans around the national debt and stood in front of a ticking debt clock. The president accused his challenger of newfound outrage over China policy, a particularly important subject in Ohio, where there is sensitivity to the outsourcing of U.S. jobs.
Both candidates were in the state all day, sharing turf for the first time in roughly two months. Romney has seen his support there slip. ABC News had rated Ohio a clear "tossup," but shifted that to "leans Democratic" after a slew of polls showed growing support for President Obama there.
See all of ABC News' race ratings and play with the electoral map.
The bad news for Romney in Ohio was reinforced by the public perception, in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll, that his campaign has faltered. Six in 10 Americans expressed a negative opinion of how he's handling his campaign and a majority responded unfavorably to his comments on people who don't pay income taxes.
Obama's ratings for handling his campaign are substantially better, 54-43 percent, favorable-unfavorable. And while ratings of Romney's campaign have grown more negative, favorable ratings of Obama's campaign efforts have gained 8 points since July, according to ABC News pollster Gary Langer.
After waking up to daunting poll numbers showing him behind by double digits in Ohio, Mitt Romney, appearing at a campaign event with golfing great Jack Nicklaus, today attempted to showcase a rare bright spot in the polls, that he leads Obama on his perceived handling of the federal-budget deficit.
"There's something else he wants to do that's the same as he's done in the past, and that is trillion dollar deficits," Romney said today in Westerville, Ohio, of his differences with Obama on budget-deficit reduction. "If he were re-elected, I can assure you it will be almost $20 trillion in debt."
The new Quinnipiac University poll shows that when asked who would do a better job on the budget deficit, Ohio voters preferred Romney over Obama 49 percent to 45 percent.
Obama took the stage this afternoon at Bowling Green State University, while Romney, 130 miles away on the opposite side of the state, hosted a business roundtable in Bedford Heights.
Obama accused Republican rival Romney of "newfound outrage" over Chinese trade practices and disingenuous claims that he would hold the Asian power accountable.
"When you hear this newfound outrage, when you see these ads he's running promising to get tough on China, it feels a lot like that fox saying, 'You know, we need more secure chicken coops,'" Obama told a crowd of 5,500 supporters in Bowling Green. "I mean, it's just not credible."
The president sought to cast himself as a warrior for U.S. workers, highlighting trade cases his administration has brought -- and won -- against China at the World Trade Organization.
A Romney campaign spokeswoman noted that Obama has refused to label China a "currency manipulator" and argued that the actions the administration touts have "failed, expired or been described as mere 'peanuts' by trade analysts" at restoring a level playing field for U.S. companies.
The candidates will then swap sides of the state, presumably passing each other mid-flight, with Romney holding a 5:30 p.m. ET event at the SeaGate Convention Center in Toledo while Obama stumps in Kent at Kent State University.
There is more than a month left in the campaign, although voters in some key battleground states start early with absentee voting this week. There are pivotal presidential debates between now and Election Day.
Mitt Romney has made preparation a priority, taking days off the campaign trail in recent weeks to prepare. Obama, meanwhile, has only engaged in several preparation sessions, although he plans a three-day crash course in Nevada before the first debate Oct. 3.
As ABC News' political director Amy Walter pointed out today, debates can mean the difference in a presidential campaign.
It rarely happens, but she pointed to Gallup data showing that George W. Bush might have benefited enough from the debates to squeak into Election Day. And the rest is Supreme Court history.
"He did get some help from the Supreme Court. But, the fact remains that Bush came into the debates down 8 points to Al Gore, but came out of the debate period ahead by 4 points," Walter wrote today.
In advance, both campaigns this week sought to lower expectations for their debate performances.
Devin Dwyer and Sunlen Miller reported from Ohio. Z. Byron Wolf contributed from Washington, D.C.