SIDNEY - The crowd that turned out Wednesday for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney stretched the length of the Shelby County Fairgrounds half-mile racetrack as he wrapped up his barnstorming tour of central Ohio.
Romney urged his listeners, estimated by the campaign at 9,000, to get out and vote - and to try to convert a 2008 supporter of President Obama as well.
"Ohio could well be the place that elects the next president of the United States," . Romney said.
The turnout was similar in size to the 10,000-plus who rallied for him Tuesday in Cuyahoga Falls, as Romney appears to have made his bid for the presidency a horse race in Ohio.
A poll of 722 likely voters in Ohio by CNN/Opinion Research Oct. 5-8 had Obama leading 51-47 percent, with a 3.5-percent margin of error. A poll during the same period by Survey USA put the race at 45-44 percent for Obama.
"I don't think we can afford another four years like the last four years. We'd see incomes continue to go down," Romney told his audience. He focused on taxes, saying President Obama "wants to continue the death tax, which of course would make it harder to pass a farm along [in the family]."
"He wants to create a new stimulus. How'd the first stimulus work?" Romney asked the Shelby County crowd.
Pretty good, according to the Obama campaign, which put out its own summary of how Shelby County fared under President Obama.
According to the Obama campaign, $25.4 million was funneled to the county through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus, and an estimated 303 young adults who otherwise would have lacked insurance now have it through their parents' plan in Shelby County. It said the unemployment rate in Shelby County has dropped from 13.6 percent in August, 2009, to 6.5 percent in August.
"[Mitt Romney's and Paul Ryan's] extreme plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program, give trillions of dollars in tax break! s skewed to the wealthiest, and pay for it by raising taxes on the middle class would have serious consequences for Ohio," Obama campaign spokesman Jessica Kershaw said.
Romney also addressed the gridlock in Washington that he said President Obama has complained about.
"Congress won't get together unless a strong leader puts them together. He hasn't; I will," Romney said.
The former Massachusetts governor started his day with a town-hall meeting in Mount Vernon at the Ariel Corp. factory that makes heavy-duty natural-gas compressors. He called for doubling the number of permits and licenses for exploring and producing oil and natural gas on government-controlled lands and waters in the United States.
"We're going to get the federal lands and federal waters to produce more energy," Romney said. "I want to get that pipeline in from Canada."
The Obama campaign cited record levels of domestic natural-gas production under President Obama, and said that natural-gas production was 14 percent higher in the first quarter of 2012 than in the same period of 2009.
Romney told the town-hall group he is in favor of buying weapons for the rebels in Syria.
"We should play an active role. It doesn't mean we send in troops or drop bombs, but it does mean actively participating in a place like Syria to make sure [President Bashar] Assad goes and that a reasonable and responsible government follows," Romney said.
Also introducing and answering questions along with Romney was Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey.
In Sidney, Mr. Romney omitted a story he had told several times this week of how he happened to meet, two years ago, one of the former Navy SEALs who was killed in a recent terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. Romney praised Glen Doherty's courage and cited him as an example of the American spirit. A Boston television station has reported that Mr. Doherty's mother voiced anger that he was speaking about her son on the campaign trail.
During the town-hall meeting, Romney was asked by a mother of a child with spina bifida about some pro-Obama radio ads that suggest people with special-needs children should be concerned about their children losing health care if Romney is elected and is successful at repealing what is anectdotally called Obamacare, officially the Affordable Care Act. Romney said he had not heard the ad, but labeled it "fear-mongering,"" and said his administration would work on helping families care for children with special needs and search for cures.
On Friday, Romney will be back in central Ohio, in Lancaster, along with running mate Paul Ryan, and on Saturday Mr. Romney will will attend a Victory Rally at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth.
Blade Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.