(AP Photo/David Richard )
PAINESVILLE, Ohio -- It was the sort of moment that tests a presidential campaign. A rocky flight. Pouring rain. Gusty winds. A sodden crowd.
But Mitt Romney managed to rally a couple of thousand people in this bellwether region of northeast Ohio on Friday, delivering a speech that focused heavily on the message that he is best equipped to rebuild the American economy.
"We were promised a recovery and we haven't seen that recovery," Romney said in the speech at Lake Erie College, reciting a litany of statistics about the grim economy: 23 million people out of work or underemployed; more people added to U.S. food stamp rolls over four years than the population of Ohio; middle-income families "treading water at best, drowning at worst."
"And the reason we're going to get a new president in November is because we're going to have a president who 's going to get this economy going and put people back to work," he yelled at the end of the list, as the crowd broke into chants of "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt."
Romney focused on the five-point economic plan that he spoke about in his speech to the Republican National Convention. It includes an energy plan heavy on fossil fuels; a trade policy that would punish China for currency manipulation; improved job training and education; and policies designed to help small business.
Although the plan has been harshly criticized by Democrats -- and not a few Republicans -- for being overly vague, it has become a crowd pleaser, and the audience in Painesville responded warmly, roaring in particular over the energy plank.
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"I'm going to make sure we take advantage of our oil, our gas, our coal, our nuclear," Romney said. "We're going to get North American energy independence -- and that preserves jobs and creates jobs!"
Lake Erie student Sarah Krzyminski, a 20-year-old junior majoring in biology, said she was impressed with the five-point plan. "It was very reasonable," she said. "Not asking for too much. He knows what we need and he's not exaggerating." An out-of-state student from Michigan, she said she planned to vote for Romney by absentee ballot.
Mike and Sue Roe, retired educators from Geneva, Ohio, who huddled under the dripping hoods of Cleveland Browns ponchos, said much the same.
"I thought he did a good job of sticking with the issues that need to be resolved," said Mike, 66. He said he liked "the idea of getting away from `government resolves everything,' to where Americans resolve everything from the ground up."
Sue, 64, said the five points were the highlight of the speech. "Those are what need to be followed," she said.
The speech in Painesville came after a day of fundraising in New York, during which Romney took time for perhaps the fluffiest interview of the campaign, during which he discussed his admiration for Snooki of “Jersey Shore” and his love of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with ABC's "Live with Kelly and Michael." He then endured a turbulent flight to Cleveland that ended with a rocky landing and a motorcade ride to Painesville, some 30 miles north.
The audience at Lake Erie College, a mix of students and local residents, were forced to wait in the rain for longer than planned, as Romney stayed inside to watch television coverage of the return of the bodies of four U.S. personnel from Libya. "I wanted to make sure I had my hand over my heart in recognition of these men and women," he told the audience when he finally emerged.
He then asked the crowd to join him for a moment of silence.
Ohio is one of the most important of the remaining battleground states that are still considered up for grabs in November, although Romney faces an uphill fight. His choice of Painesville was not random. It is the county seat of Lake County, which has voted for the winner in Ohio more frequently than any other county since 1960.
Obama nipped John McCain by a single percentage point in Lake County in 2008 en route to winning Ohio by 4 percentage points. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Battleground state poll, released Thursday, showed Obama leading Romney in Ohio by 7 percentage points. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.