Mitt Romney boards a bus Saturday for a four-state campaign swing designed to take his presidential challenge directly into areas Barack Obama won in 2008.
The states to be covered — Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio — all present strong opportunities for the former Massachusetts governor, Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney senior adviser, told reporters at the campaign’s Boston headquarters today.
“Even though his team is pouring tons of resources into these states, the bad economy continues to hang over Obama like a dark cloud,” Fehrnstrom said. Romney will highlight his goals for a “stronger middle class” and focus on the work of small business owners, getting tough on trade issues with China, and repealing Obama’s health-care law, Fehrnstrom said.
The bus trip, which starts in Norfolk, Va., marks Romney’s most intense effort at retail campaigning since his last major bus trip in June, which ended in his native Michigan.
The former Massachusetts governor continues to trail Obama in most national polls. A CNN poll released Thursday showed the president ahead of Romney 52 percent to 45 percent in a survey of registered voters.
Romney was rated favorably by 47 percent and unfavorably by 48 percent of those polled. Obama was viewed favorably by 56 percent with 42 percent rating him unfavorably. The poll of 911 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Of the 14 media markets the bus tour plans to visit, Obama won 12, according to Romney’s campaign. The two exceptions are Mooresville, N.C., and St. Augustine, Fla. The other stops planned include Ashland and Manassas in Virginia; Charlotte, High Point and Raleigh in North Carolina; Orlando, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale in Florida; and Beallsville, Zanesville and Chillicothe in Ohio.
The cumulative number of electoral votes in the four states on the bus tour is 75.
Virginia, which has 13 electoral votes, gave Obama 52.6 percent of its votes, which was closest to his nationwide total of 52.9 percent. He was the first Democrat in 44 years to carry the state.
North Carolina, with 15, made Obama the first Democrat since 1976 to win its electoral votes; his margin of victory of three-tenths of one percentage point was the smallest in the 28 states he carried.
Florida’s 29 votes reflect the fact that it is the most populous swing state, tied with Democratic New York as the third-largest Electoral College prize behind only Democratic California’s 55 votes and Republican Texas’ 38.
And Ohio, with 18, has a reputation for backing the nationwide winner, siding with the victor in 12 consecutive elections starting in 1964. The average vote in Ohio over the past three presidential elections has been 49.2 percent Republican and 48.9 percent Democrat, the closest of the 50 states.
They’re also places that are among the markets being most heavily saturated by advertising from both sides.
Fehrnstrom criticized an ad from a pro-Obama super- political action committee that attacks Romney for actions by Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private equity firm he headed. The Priorities USA Action spot links the closing of a Bain-owned plant to the loss of a worker’s health insurance and the death of his wife from cancer.
Romney left Bain before the plant closed and the man’s wife, who died five years later, had kept her own job and health insurance for a period of time after her husband lost his, according to a Washington Post fact-check that gave the ad “four Pinocchios,” its worst rating for truthfulness.
“They have gone from what started out as petty distortions and untruths to unbelievable exaggerations that diminish the office of the president and insult the American people,” Fehrnstrom said. “Obama has squandered what has always been one of his key attributes: that he was a different kind of politician who was going to take us to a better place.”
Several of Romney’s potential running mates come from states he will be visiting on the tour, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio. Also under consideration is former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a state that hasn’t backed a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972.
Fehrnstrom offered no guidance on whether the bus trip’s schedule was flexible enough for the addition of a rollout of a running mate. He told reporters to download the campaign’s smart-phone application if they wanted to learn the news first, although declined to answer a question on whether the campaign has taken protections against it being hacked with incorrect information.
Recent vice presidential picks have tended to be announced just before or after a weekend. The choices of Barack Obama and John McCain were revealed on Fridays. The news of running mates for Al Gore and George W. Bush leaked out on Mondays. And John Kerry announced John Edwards on a Tuesday.
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