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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
You could be forgiven over the next few weeks if you get the impression that President Obama and Mitt Romney are running for president of Ohio. Both are spending plenty of time in that state - a state that decided the election for George W. Bush in 2004.
INSKEEP: It's a state that Romney in particular would struggle to win without. That explains why the president has made his second visit to Ohio in five days, while Romney is spending several days there this week.
MONTAGNE: Our coverage starts with NPR's Scott Horsley.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Yesterday was the deadline to register to vote in Ohio. As the president's supporters filed into a rally at Ohio State University, volunteers armed with clipboards walked up and down a line signing new voters up.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you registered to vote, ma'am? Have you received your voter registration in the mail?
HORSLEY: Many in the crowd of 15,000 were already registered, so the president urged them to take the next step. Early voting is already underway in Ohio. Mr. Obama's message was - what are you waiting for?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are buses around the corner that can get you there and back. So don't wait. Do not delay. Go vote today. What do you think?
OBAMA: All right, Buckeyes. We need you.
HORSLEY: The president's campaign events generally include some kind of call to action. And for weeks now the Obama campaign has been urging supporters to vote early, wherever possible. Staffers say it's a good way to avoid lines and other headaches at the polling place on Election Day. It's also a way for the campaign to lock in support, before something happens that might change voters' opinions - like, for example, a presidential debate.
Polls suggest that many voters are taking a second look at Governor Romney after his strong showing in the Denver debate a week ago. But Ohio State grad student Sarah Lukowski says the debate hasn't shaken her confidence in Mr. Obama.
SARAH LUKOWSKI: Obviously it wasn't his best performance. But I don't think in the long run it's really going to change people's opinion of the president. Romney's plan, even though it sounded nice, didn't have the details. And I think that the people of Ohio also could see that.
HORSLEY: Some backers of the president say they'd like to see him be more aggressive in his next debate with Governor Romney. Retired realtor Marilyn Lyren of Dublin, Ohio says one debate won't make or break the president, but she thinks Mr. Obama can do better.
MARILYN LYREN: I wish Obama had been the Obama I saw debating against Hillary four years ago. I think he will from now on. He was presidential and polite, and I guess that doesn't work when the other team doesn't do that.
HORSLEY: Aides say Mr. Obama will make adjustments before the next debate, this coming Tuesday.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S A NEW DAY")
HORSLEY: Much as the campaign might like to put last week's debate behind it, reminders keep cropping up. Will-I-Am of the Black Eyed Peas served as the warm-up act for yesterday's rally. He offered a musical answer to Governor Romney's threat to cut funding for public television.
(SOUNDBITE OF "SESAME STREET" THEME SONG)
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has repeatedly mocked his Republican rival for taking a budget ax to Big Bird. On a more serious note, the president reminded Ohio voters that Governor Romney opposed the federal rescue of Chrysler and General Motors. The auto industry is a big employer in the state.
OBAMA: And when Governor Romney said we should let the auto industry go bankrupt, we said no, we're not going to take your advice. Don't boo. Vote.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)
OBAMA: And we reinvented a dying auto industry that supports one in eight Ohio jobs and has come roaring back to the top of the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)
HORSLEY: The president also challenged Romney on foreign policy. In his speech at the Virginia Military Institute this week, the Republican nominee criticized Mr. Obama for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq last year, saying the move diminished U.S. influence in that country.
For Mr. Obama, the troop withdrawal represents a campaign promise fulfilled, while he warns Romney's call for a more muscular policy abroad sounds like a dangerous echo of Bush-era adventures.
OBAMA: Ohio, you can't turn a page on the failed policies of the past if you're promising to repeat them. We cannot afford to go back to a foreign policy that gets us into wars with no plan to end them. We're moving forward, not going back.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)
HORSLEY: The two men will have more to say about foreign policy in their third debate, later this month.
Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.