Both sides in the US presidential election piled into the Midwestern state of Ohio yesterday – one trying to persuade voters to forget the earthquake of last week's secretly recorded video showing Mitt Romney labelling the 47 per cent of Americans who don't pay income tax as "victims", the other striving to make sure they do not.
Charged with turning the focus back to the economy, Paul Ryan, the Republican running mate, arrived here in Lima last night to kick off the less-than-pithily named "Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class" three-day bus tour that will be joined by Mr Romney today in Dayton.
Turning an indoor rally into a lecture, Mr Ryan unveiled a series of overhead slides that he said illustrated the national debt, blaming President Barack Obama for it. "President Obama sees this debt and not only is he doing nothing about it, he makes things worse," he said. "If we keep going down this path we will end up like Europe."
In hot pursuit of Mr Ryan's wheels was a second bus deployed by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) with "Mitt Romney: Writing off the Middle Class" on its side and bearing Democrat grandees like former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. "We will be doing every stop that they will be doing," said Adam Hodge, a DNC official on the bus. Meanwhile, a small plane was circling Lima, trailing a banner: "Admit it: 47 per cent aren't victims".
In the end, Mr Ryan could not avoid the 47 per cent ruckus altogether. Taking a question from the crowd, he asserted: "This is the point that Mitt and I are trying to make – we want an 'opportunity society', not a welfare state. Our objective is to address the root cause of poverty."
As ever, Ohio promises to be a bellwether for the election and, for now, President Obama appears to have a slight edge among its voters, possibly born of his 2009 bailout of the car industry which is an important employer here. Mr Obama will campaign in the state tomorrow.
But some voters in Lima were thrilled to see Mr Ryan in town representing the Republican ticket. "I want a President who believes in America," said Mike Caprella. "I wouldn't vote for Mr Obama, because he has bypassed the Constitution, because he hasn't paid anything into America and because he is a Muslim. At least that's what he believes in – that crap, as I call it." Terri Henderson, 51, agreed: "I don't even believe he is American."
The party cannot be seen to embrace such views, yet sometimes it veers close. "I think this President has a problem with the American dream, I think this President has a problem with success," Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, told the crowd here before introducing Mr Ryan.
The duelling Ohio bus tours came as the two camps also exchanged barbs over foreign policy, with the Romney camp asserting that Mr Obama has abandoned Israel over Iran and has been weak on the world stage.
"He made these grand speeches. He made the case that the power of his personality and of the powers of his persuasion powers would calm things in the Muslim world and would make people respect and like us that much more," Mr Ryan said. Today "they are burning our flags in capitals all around the world, they are burning our embassies and the are killing our diplomats."
Among those sending off the Democrat bus here yesterday, Jack Hartley, 60, said he felt comfortable Mr Obama will win the state. But he warned against complacency. "I think Obama is going to win here, but we have to get out the vote," he said. "If we don't get out the vote then that's how Mitt Romney could still slip through," he said.Reuse content