WORTHINGTON, Ohio — Mitt Romney adopted the mantra that fueled his opponent’s victory four year ago, casting himself as the candidate of “big change” Thursday in Ohio as he began to outline a closing argument in the state that could decide the race.
On the same day, President Barack Obama wrapped up a sleep-deprived two-day, eight-state jaunt by pressing supporters to exploit early voting in swing states as a bulwark against the possibility of a surge by Romney, traveling to Illinois to cast his own ballot 12 days before Election Day.
It was a day of deeply contrasting messages that hinted at the moods and strategies inside both campaigns: Romney sought to keep projecting the air of a winner, focused on an ambitious agenda of reform, while Obama emphasized the gritty mechanics of shoring up his electoral turnout.
Romney, who has narrowed the president’s lead in some state and national polls, started a three-city bus tour here by borrowing a message of change long identified with Obama’s 2008 campaign. The Republican candidate promised to “tackle the problems politicians have spoken about for years but haven’t been willing to deal with.”
“It’s time for a big change, and Paul Ryan and I represent a big change for America,” Romney said after rolling into an afternoon rally here on his bus with flashing red-and-blue lights in the window.
For Obama, reclaiming the change mantle as an incumbent has been one of his singular challenges. It is hard to run against Washington while traveling with an armed entourage and a big blue and white government plane. So the president has alternated between blaming Republicans in Congress for blocking change and arguing that the change Romney represents is actually more of the same policies from the Bush era. At an Obama rally in Richmond, Va., on Thursday, Sen. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, summarized the argument in pithy form.
“In 2008, we changed the guard,” he told a crowd of 15,000 who turned out to see the president. “In 2012, we guard the change.”
Obama made the case, as he does most days, that change has been slower than anyone might wish but that it is under way.
“Unemployment is falling,” he said at a morning rally in Tampa, Fla. “Manufacturing is coming back. Our assembly lines are humming again.”
“We’ve got a long way to go, but, Florida, we’ve come too far to turn back now,” he continued. “We can’t afford to go back to the same policies that got us into the mess. We’ve got to stick with the policies that are getting us out of the mess.”