WESTERVILLE, Ohio Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney barnstormed Ohio on Wednesday amid signs that the battleground state and perhaps other key battlegrounds as well is slipping further from his grasp.
With President Barack Obama also campaigning in the state, Romney sharpened his economic and deficit message on a daylong bus tour through the rainy Buckeye State, an unusually busy day for a candidate who hasn't done a lot of multiple campaign events on the road lately.
The stepped-up campaigning came six weeks before Election Day as a series of new polls shows Romney falling behind Obama in several swing states including Ohio, Florida and Virginia as well as on major issues.
He now trails by an average of 5.2 percentage points in Ohio, 4.5 points in Virginia, 4.2 points in Nevada, 4 points in Iowa and 3.1 points in Florida, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan website RealClearPolitics.com.
He trails the president or is at best neck and neck on most economic issues in the eyes of likely voters in Ohio and Florida, according to a new poll for the Washington Post.
Romney on Wednesday was looking to boost his standing as he heads toward a potentially make-or-break showdown with Obama in the first of three debates next Wednesday.
Speaking at a rally in a high school gym in Westerville, Romney assailed the president for his stewardship of the troubled economy.
"Do we really want four more years where half the kids coming out of college can't find work, college-level work?" Romney asked the more than 1,000 supporters in the audience.
"No!" they responded.
"I don't think we can afford four more years like the last four years."
Ohio is crucial for Romney. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio, and given the leanings of other states, there's no visible electoral map strategy that the former Massachusetts governor can craft to win the White House without Ohio, analysts said.
"The math just doesn't support it, and the Obama people know that if he (Obama) wins Ohio, it's game over," said David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron.
Obama carried the state by five percentage points in 2008. But Republicans have made significant inroads in Ohio since then taking back the governor's mansion and winning more seats in Congress giving them hope that the state would stay in the Republican column for Romney.
In Westerville, Jim and Rhonda Britt proudly wore Romney-for-president buttons and carried Romney signs. They struggled to understand why he seemed to be losing ground to the president in Ohio polls.
"I don't think the polling is correct," said Jim Britt, 55, who owns a Columbus delivery service. "I see more energy from Romney than I did from John McCain" when he ran for president in 2008.
Romney also had golfing great Jack Nicklaus, an Ohio native, at his side.
In Bowling Green, the president attributed the state's improving economy in part to the auto industry bailout, which he supported and Romney opposed. One in every eight workers here is tied to the auto industry.
Obama also mocked Romney for a recent remark calling 47 percent of the country on government assistance "victims." "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," the president said.
William Blair, a retired city public-works director who attended the rally at Bowling Green State University, said the president's policies were starting to resonate.
"I think Obama is getting his message out. Romney is falling on his face," said Blair.