LORAIN, Ohio — Mitt Romney on Thursday visited a factory shuttered when George W. Bush was in the White House, and said its lingering idleness marks a failure of President Barack Obama's economic policies.
"Had the president's policies worked it, would be open again," the Republican presidential contender told a small audience seated in the cavernous space. Obama visited the factory – then open – during his 2008 campaign for the White House, and Romney's aides chose the site specifically for its presumed political advantage.
The gamesmanship underscored a central feature of the 2012 campaign, in which Romney hopes voters will turn Obama out of office because of high unemployment and other economic difficulties, while the president seeks credit for the recovery that has cut joblessness nationally as well as in Ohio and other states in the industrial Midwest.
The day's events also reaffirmed Ohio's central importance in the White House campaign. No Republican has ever been elected president without winning the state, and both candidates are expected to pour campaign resources in through Election Day.
Romney said little or nothing he hasn't said before, reflecting his campaign's view that the site was as important as his spoken message.
The continued idleness of the National Gypsum Co. facility "underscores the failure of the president's policies to get this country working today," the former Massachusetts governor said. He noted that Obama had campaigned in Ohio on Wednesday, and said, "if you want to know where his vision leads, open your eyes. Because we've been living it for the last four years."
Romney said Obama would "like to be able to run on his words. But we have to make sure he cannot run away from his record."
Romney's campaign also took the unusual step of distributing excerpts of Obama's speech at the site in 2008.
Obama's appearance back then came in the midst of his struggle with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary in Ohio. At the time, he was eager to make the case that she had been a supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact generally opposed by blue-collar workers in the state.
"Now, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that we can't stop globalization in its tracks and that some of these jobs aren't coming back. But what I refuse to accept is that we have to stand idly by while workers watch their jobs get shipped overseas," Obama said at the time, according to the excerpts distributed by Romney's campaign.
"We need a president who's working as hard for you as you're working for your families. And that's the kind of president I intend to be," Obama said then.
His re-election campaign pushed back.
"The fact is that in Ohio, about one out of every eight jobs is related to the auto industry, and the auto industry would be in a terrible situation without President Obama," said former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is also co-chair of the president's re-election campaign.
Romney opposed the auto bailout that Obama undertook in 2009. Now, with the industry turning out cars and profits, the president is expected to make his rival's opposition to it a campaign issue throughout Michigan, Wisconsin and other states where it is an important part of the economy.
Strickland said Ohio ranks second behind Michigan in production of cars and trucks, but first in the manufacture of auto parts.
Except for the political symbols brought in for Romney's speech – among them an American flag and a big sign that said "Obama Isn't Working," – the factory is a nearly empty, dusty shell of a plant where workers once turned out sheets of wall board used in housing construction.
A few stacks of wall board stood near what once was a loading dock and bore the manufacture date of: May 16, 2008.
Fewer than 100 jobs were lost at the time the factory closed.
Ohio's unemployment stands at 7.6 percent, below the national average of 8.2 percent. It was higher, 9.1 percent and rising when Obama took office, reaching 10.6 percent in the fall of 2009 before it began receding.