RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene.
Here is a sneak preview of what we can expect a lot more of in the next few months: President Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney carrying on a long-distance debate over the economy. In this case, the distance was just 250 miles. Both men were in Ohio. Mr. Obama was in the Democratic stronghold of Cleveland, up along the Great Lakes. Romney was down in Cincinnati, near the Kentucky border.
As usual, Ohio is expected to be one of the most important swing states in November. In a moment, we'll hear how President Obama described the economic choice that voters in the state face.
First, here's NPR's Ari Shapiro, who attended Romney's event in Cincinnati.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney's speech at the steel company was short and punchy. He took the stage, delivered the pro forma thank-yous, and launched immediately into attack mode.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SHAPIRO: He said the president gives a good talk, but talk is cheap.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SHAPIRO: Romney wants voters to ask themselves whether they're better off today than they were three years ago. He's confident that enough people are disappointed to kick the president out and give Romney a chance. He said he's not big on do-overs.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SHAPIRO: That's a tougher argument to make in Ohio than in some other parts of the country. When President Obama took office, Ohio's unemployment rate was above 10 percent. Now it's dropped three points, well below the national average of 8.2 percent.
Bob Zumbiel is in the packaging business, and he has experienced this improvement first-hand.
BOB ZUMBIEL: We've been growing. We just moved into a new plant in Northern Kentucky by the airport. And we've gone through the growing pains, and now we're pretty well got things going right the right way.
SHAPIRO: That's great news for his business - not such great news for his candidate, Mitt Romney, who's running against the Obama economy. But Zumbiel suggests there's not much either candidate can do to determine America's economic future.
ZUMBIEL: It all depends a lot of what happens in Europe. But I think if we weren't dependent on that, I think it's going to get better.
SHAPIRO: That's not a universal view. Josh Wice says the economy may be improving, but Romney could speed it up.
JOSH WICE: I think what it comes down to is the economy is not growing at the rate it needs to be, you know, to sustain itself long term. And I think that's the main issue.
SHAPIRO: And he likes Romney's plan to lower taxes and cut regulations.
WICE: I think that would be - you know, take a lot of burden off businesses to be able to grow faster.
SHAPIRO: This two-step Romney must execute in Ohio is a challenge in other states, where the economy's actually improving, too. Several important swing states in this election have lower unemployment rates than the national average.
Senior campaign strategist Russ Schriefer told reporters in a conference call: Those bright spots are in spite of President Obama, not because of him.
RUSS SCHRIEFER: And it just shows whether it's in Ohio or New Jersey or Indiana, when you have Republican governors who encourage business, things are better. The problem is that they still have this weight of the White House and the Obama administration on top of them.
SHAPIRO: It's no coincidence that Romney chose Cincinnati for yesterday's event. It's a fundraising stronghold for Republicans, right next door to House Speaker John Boehner's home district.
And political scientist Grant Neeley from the University of Dayton says it's a fertile hunting ground for Republican votes, too.
GRANT NEELEY: Cincinnati and Hamilton County are kind of a, in 2008, they were kind of a little, blue dot in a sea of red. If you look at all the counties surrounding Cincinnati, they all went for McCain. So he's trying to win back that population center and get them in his camp.
SHAPIRO: After Cincinnati, though, Romney pivots from big population centers to small towns. Today in New Hampshire, he kicks off a six-state bus tour of rural America. All six are states that President Obama won in 2008. The Romney folks hope to put them all in play this year.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, traveling with the Romney campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.