Romney seeks votes in Ohio; Obama preps for debate

PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (AP) — Republicans Mitt

Romney and Paul Ryan went back to school on Saturday to rally college

students in all

corners of all-important Ohio and hammer at President Barack Obama

for going easy on China over unfair trade practices. Obama

took precious time off the campaign trail to practice for the next

debate against his GOP rival.

It was an unspoken acknowledgment of the importance that Obama attaches to upping his game in Debate No.2 that the president

is largely dropping out of sight for five straight days in the final weeks of the race to prepare for Tuesday’s encounter

in Hempstead, N .Y.

Even while cloistered for debate prep at a sprawling resort in Williamsburg, Va., though, the president didn’t completely

cede the spotlight to Romney. His weekly radio and Internet address highlighted the Obama administration’s work to revive

the U.S. auto industry — a message aimed squarely at working-class voters in manufacturing-heavy states like Ohio.

Romney, for his part, told a crowd of

more than 3,000 people at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth that

Obama was ducking

an important decision on whether China is manipulating its

currency to gain a trade advantage. A decision was due on Monday,

but the Treasury Department said Friday the decision won’t come

until after global finance officials meet in early November.

That means a decision is unlikely before the Nov. 6 election.

“It’s time for us to stand up to China for their cheating,” Romney declared. “It’s got to stop.”

Romney framed the issue squarely as a matter of jobs, saying cheap Chinese products were driving American companies out of

business.

“We’ve got to get those jobs back and make trade to be fair,” Romney declared.

Ryan, too, criticized the

administration for failing to hold China accountable for its trade

practices. During a morning appearance

in northeastern Ohio at Youngstown State University, he told a

crowd of about 1,400 that his hometown of Janesville, Wis.,

was much like theirs — a “blue-collar, factory town” where the

struggles of the auto industry hit home hard.

Ryan said the president had led the country toward a higher national debt, steeper taxes and insufficient job growth.

“We can’t keep going down this path,” he said. “We can’t keep accepting this is the new normal.”

The Wisconsin congressman then

hopscotched to Bowling Green State University, in the northwestern part

of the state, where

he grabbed a bratwurst with mustard at the college Republicans’

tailgate party before the school’s football team took on his

alma mater, Miami (Ohio) University.

The Obama campaign dismissed the Republicans’ tough talk on China as nothing more than talk.

“Mitt Romney will never crack down on

China’s cheating — just look at his record,” Obama campaign spokesman

Danny Kanner said

in a statement. He said Romney had opposed Obama administration

efforts to impose tariffs on Chinese-made tires and had invested

in companies that shipped American jobs to China.

Obama’s campaign upped its celebrity quotient as the two sides claw for any advantage in a tight race: Actor Morgan Freeman’s

commanding voice narrates a new ad telling voters that Obama has met the nation’s challenges and “the last thing we should

do is turn back now.”

On Thursday, Bruce Springsteen will

team up with former President Bill Clinton to rally Obama voters in

Parma, Ohio, in what

will be the singer’s first political appearance this campaign.

“The Boss” plans a second event Thursday, in Ames, Iowa. Springsteen

campaigned for Obama in 2008, too.

Both sides are devoting huge time and effort to Ohio, this year’s battleground to end all battlegrounds, where polls show

Obama with a slight edge over Romney. Saturday’s emphasis by the two sides on the auto industry and manufacturing jobs was

designed to connect with blue-collar voters there.

Both sides also are keenly aware of the

importance of this year’s series of three presidential debates.

Romney’s strong performance

in the first debate on Oct. 3 gave his campaign a much-needed jolt

of energy, and the GOP nominee said his campaign still

had post-debate momentum over Obama.

“His campaign is about smaller and smaller things, and our campaign is about bigger and bigger crowds, fighting for a bright

future,” Romney said on warm, sunny fall day.

Joe Biden’s aggressive counterpunch in a debate with Ryan on Thursday cheered Democrats, but some critics thought the vice

president overdid the theatrics with his frequent eye rolls, headshakes and broad grins suggesting incredulity.

Obama’s campaign has acknowledged he

didn’t practice enough before his widely panned performance in the first

debate. Some

sessions were cut short, others canceled altogether, mainly

because of developments in Libya, where four Americans were killed

at a U.S. consulate.

The campaign has resisted calls from some Democrats to shake up Obama’s debate team. Senior advisers David Axelrod and David

Plouffe, along with former White House officials Anita Dunn and Ron Klain, still are running the preparations.

The president may have picked up a few pointers from Biden’s debate with Ryan. Obama watched the vice presidential debate

from aboard Air Force One and would chime in when Biden made a strong point.

“That’s a good one,” Obama said, according to aides.

Tuesday’s town hall-style debate at

Hofstra University will have an audience of about 80 undecided voters

selected by the

Gallup Organization. Moderator Candy Crowley of CNN will select

from among questions on foreign and domestic policy submitted

by the audience. The final debate, covering foreign policy, will

be Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Romney spent nearly four hours Saturday morning at a Columbus hotel preparing for the next debate, then boarded his campaign

bus for Shawnee State. From there, the Romney bus headed for Lebanon in southwest Ohio, where he gave a similar speech.

The Obama campaign isn’t leaving Ohio unguarded for long: Michelle Obama will visit Delaware and Cleveland on Monday and the

president will be in Athens on Wednesday.

To help keep Democratic ads like Freeman’s new appeal for Obama up and running in the hotly contested battleground states,

the president dispatched Biden to a pair of private fundraisers in Connecticut and New York on Saturday.