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Lorain County, Ohio is a fading industrial community outside of Cleveland, and it's suddenly in the spotlight. President Obama campaigned there on Tuesday. Mitt Romney followed with a speech there yesterday.
As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, Romney is chasing the president to accuse him of failing to live up to his campaign promises.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A thick layer of gray dust covers everything at this gypsum factory. It's as fine as powdered sugar, and it looks as though it has not been disturbed since the factory shut down, just a few weeks after President Obama campaigned here in 2008.
Now the political slogans and the klieg lights are back, for a different presidential candidate promising jobs.
MITT ROMNEY: I can tell you I will use every ounce of my energy, not to improve my golf handicap, but instead to go to work to help the American people go to work.
SHAPIRO: This factory closed under President Bush - a name Romney almost never utters.
Romney said while it's not President Obama's fault that the plant shut down, it is his fault that the place remains closed today.
ROMNEY: This factory used to have people working in it. The people who are no longer working here have families. They used to be able shop and go out to restaurants for dinner, now and then, or go to a movie. And they're not able to do those things like they were before, so those other enterprises had to lay off people.
SHAPIRO: Romney pointed out that President Obama was in this part of Ohio just one day before. In that speech at a community college, the president said he and Republicans have different visions for America.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In this country, prosperity does not trickle down; prosperity grows from the bottom up. And it grows from a strong middle-class out.
SHAPIRO: Romney said this will indeed be a choice between competing visions for America.
ROMNEY: If you want to know where his vision leads, open your eyes, 'cause we've been living it for the last three years. It leads to lost jobs, lost homes, lost dreams. It's time to end that vision and have a vision of growth, and jobs and economic vitality.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHAPIRO: This part of the country will be crucial in the presidential race. No Republican in history has won the White House without carrying Ohio. In the primary here, Romney vastly outspent Rick Santorum and barely squeaked out a win - so he has work to do.
Both Romney and the president have a hard time winning over the white, working-class voters who make up a large part of the state's population. People like John Baribak. He's lived in Lorain his whole life and recently retired from Sears after 40 years. He remembers when this town had a shipyard, a car factory, a steel plant.
JOHN BARIBAK: We had 12 to 15,000 guys building Fords at two plants here.
SHAPIRO: That's all been gone for years.
BARIBAK: Sad. It really is. I mean I grew up across the street from the steel plant when there was 15,000 people working there. My dad worked there. I worked there when I got out of the Air Force. It's just sad.
SHAPIRO: Pam Malcolm is a native, too. She works as a cashier in nearby Elyria.
PAM MALCOLM: I have seen people with college degrees and they cannot find work. I mean they're working as bartenders and, you know, some are waitresses, some are waiters. It's bad. It's bad. It's really bad.
SHAPIRO: Although Lorain County is suffering, the State of Ohio is actually bouncing back. The unemployment rate here is 7.6 percent. That's lower than the national rate of 8.2 percent.
The state's Republican governor, John Kasich, talks up Ohio's recovery nearly every day. Kasich endorsed Romney yesterday. The Ohio governor's sunny outlook contrasts with Romney's message that things are still tough.
After the speech, Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom said he doesn't worry that an improving economy will undercut Romney's message.
ERIC FEHRNSTROM: If you're out of work or if you're struggling to work two jobs to make ends meet, or if you've become so discouraged that you've stopped looking at all for work, it doesn't seem like a recovery at all.
SHAPIRO: For most of this week, Romney has used President Obama as his travel agent. On Wednesday, Romney was in Charlotte, North Carolina, overlooking the stadium where Mr. Obama will accept the Democratic nomination in a few months. Yesterday, the Republican followed the Democrat to Ohio. And today their paths diverge.
Mitt Romney is focusing on Latino voters at campaign events in Arizona, while Mr. Obama is back at the White House.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Cleveland, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.