(USA Today) - Looking for a political rally to attend in the next few days? Look no farther than the state of Ohio.
With 11 days to go until the election, both campaigns are blanketing the state with ads and appearances, stressing early and absentee voting and making sure that no part of the state goes unvisited.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan will hold a rally in North Canton, Ohio, on Friday night. When Romney heads to Florida and Virginia over the weekend, Ryan will stay behind in the Buckeye State for a bus tour stopping in five Ohio towns on Saturday and three more on Sunday. Romney will also travel to Iowa tomorrow to give a scheduled speech on the "American Economy."
On Monday, President Obama heads back to the Buckeye State with former president Bill Clinton to visit Youngstown.
Speaking at the first of his three stops in Ohio on Thursday, Romney introduced some new lines to his stump speech saying his plan for the country was the path to "big change" while the president's was the "status quo."
"The path we're on, the path of status quo the president represents, will take us to $20 trillion in debt by the end of the next four years. I'll put us on a new path, a big change path," Romney said at a stop in Cincinnati, before promising to balance the budget, restore Medicare and turn the economy around.
"These challenges are big challenges, this election is therefore a big choice and America wants to see big changes and we are going to bring big changes to get America stronger again," Romney said.
Romney repeated variations of the words "big change" at least a dozen times during his 24-minute remarks at the rally.
The laser-like focus on Ohio is for good reason. Romney has managed to narrow the gap there significantly since last month. Where he was once 6 to 10 percentage points down, depending on the poll, he now trails the president by only 2%, according to RealClearPolitics' average of recent surveys.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without the state. Ohio has voted for the eventual president every election since 1960.
Early voting in the state began on Oct. 2 and a Time magazine poll released on Wednesday showed Obama with a 60%-30% lead over Romney among those respondents who said they had already cast their ballot.
The Romney campaign argued that much of the polling overstates the Democratic advantage. In a Thursday memo, polling director Rich Beeson and Ohio campaign director Scott Jennings said that given the campaign's strong voter-contact operation, Republican enthusiasm and a lead among independents, Ohio appears to be moving in Romney's direction.
"Anything more than (Democratic advantage of +8) shows a survey to be vastly out of touch with today's political reality - Obama isn't as popular, his base isn't as energized, and Mitt Romney's supporters are poised to shatter voter contact records in Ohio," the memo said.
By Jackie Kucinich, USA TODAY