STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Mitt Romney's released a new ad - low-tech and simple, the jacket is off, no tie, as he looks at the camera and says he feels compassion for struggling Americans.
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INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott spent yesterday following Romney's bus tour through Ohio where he sounded similar themes.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Romney is making the case that he understands the plight of the middle class. In an interview with NBC last night, he made a rare defense of his Massachusetts health care law, saying he doesn't think there's anything that shows more empathy. Earlier, in a packed gymnasium at Westerville South High School, outside Columbus, Romney told stories about people struggling without work and touted his experience as the best shot at a turnaround.
: I know what it takes to get this economy going again. I care about the people of America. And the difference between me and President Obama is I know what to do and I will do what it takes to get this economy going.
ELLIOTT: On stage near his giant portable debt clock, Romney said if President Obama is reelected, the national debt could grow to almost $20 trillion and warned not to expect huge tax cuts from a Romney administration because of fewer deductions and closed loopholes. Twenty-six-year-old Julie Thompson came to see Romney for the first time, and says she found him more personable than he comes off on TV.
JULIE THOMPSON: I thought he was a lot more well-spoken and a lot more put together than I thought he would ever be. Like, he just seemed so genuine and so nice.
ELLIOTT: Romney has been working to make a connection with the middle-of-the-road voters who could make the difference in Ohio. Yesterday, he emphasized the state's manufacturing base, a base hit hard by the recession.
TIM SELHORST: It's been tough. It's been a tough set of years for our company.
ELLIOTT: Tim Selhorst is the president and CEO of American Spring Wire and hosted Romney at the company's plant at Bedford Heights yesterday.
SELHORST: We believe that we can compete with anybody on earth as wire makers, don't we?
SELHORST: What we need is a little better leadership. We need a better environment.
ELLIOTT: Romney, sitting among a panel of manufacturers, told them they've been losing business because of unfair competition from overseas.
: One of the nations that has cheated over the years has been China. They've artificially held down the value of their currency. And by doing that, the prices of their products are artificially low. And when their prices are low and then they compete with our manufacturers, our guys go out of business and people lose jobs.
ELLIOTT: Romney says he'll label China a currency manipulator. But the China issue is complicated territory. President Obama has attacked Romney for complaining the country's trade practices when he profited from investments there. In Bedford Heights, a woman in the audience posed this dilemma.
CHRISSY SPARROW: My name is Chrissy Sparrow and I'm a stay-at-home mom. And several years ago I stumbled on an idea to create a product. And I've been able to create that product and actually manufacture the product, but in order for me to do so, I had to go to China. And I have been so embarrassed to even admit that I had to go there.
ELLIOTT: What is an entrepreneur supposed to do, she asked? Later, in Toledo, Romney sounded the same theme: a harder line on China.
: I'm going to crack down on China. They should not steal our jobs unfairly. That can't continue.
ELLIOTT: As he rallied in the Toledo Civic Center, the adjacent hotel was host to an international business expo that brought mostly Chinese business people to the city in hopes of luring investment to the region. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Toledo.
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