President Barack Obama on Thursday kicks off a two-day trip through Ohio and Pennsylvania on his first official bus tour this year, less than three weeks after rival Republican Mitt Romney finished his own tour across the Rust Belt region.
Not only do both states represent crucial battleground territory this November, but Obama’s bus tour path is also home to many working class voters, a group the two campaigns are trying to attract.
“Throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania, President Obama will talk about his efforts over the last three years to get our economy back on track, doubling down on American workers by saving the auto industry, investing in manufacturing and bringing jobs back to America,” the Obama campaign said in a statement.
Thursday morning, Obama will hold a grassroots event in Maumee, a city in the northern part of Ohio, and later travel to Sandusky for an ice cream social. He’ll end the day with what’s billed as a grassroots event in Parma, a city outside of Cleveland.
Obama has been no stranger this year to the Buckeye State, which CNN rates as a “toss-up” on its Electoral Map. While the trip marks his third to Ohio since he held his first official campaign rally in Columbus in early May, it’s his seventh trip overall to the state during 2012.
In June, he made headlines when he gave a campaign speech in Cleveland the same day Romney appeared in the Cincinnati area, stamping the day as the first time the candidates have appeared in the same state on the same day this cycle.
At his rally that day, Obama focused on the refusal by congressional Republicans to accept any kind of tax increase on the wealthy, saying that stance prevented a comprehensive deficit reduction agreement last year.
“The only thing that can break the stalemate is you,” Obama said. “This November is your chance to render a verdict on the debate over how to grow the economy, how to create good jobs, how to pay down our deficit.”
Ohio has long been a key swing state in presidential elections, and a Quinnipiac survey released last week showed Obama with an edge over Romney, 47% to 38%.
In 2008, Obama won the state with 52% over Sen. John McCain at 47%.
But Obama isn’t the only one out on the Ohio-Pennsylvania bus route this week. Romney’s campaign has surrogates shadowing the president’s trail–a similar strategy Democrats took last month during Romney’s five-day, six-state tour.
Former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both considered potential GOP running mates, stopped in Maumee Thursday morning ahead of the president’s speech to blast Obama over what they called his “broken promises.”
“The president a few weeks ago came and gave an economic speech in Ohio. He’s a great speaker,” Jindal said. “But four years ago, it was about hope and change. That speech a few weeks ago was about divide and blame.”
Pawlenty argued the president had failed to follow through on a promise to turn the economy around, pointing to the increasing debt and rising health care costs.
The former governor also suggested a new name for Obama’s bus tour, which is officially called the “Betting on America” tour.
“I think we should dub his tour the ‘Broken Promises Tour for America’s Middle Class’,” Pawlenty said.
For its part, the Republican National Committee is also making noise, releasing a web video Thursday that hits Obama over the national debt.
The video features a speech Vice President Joe Biden made in Maumee, Ohio during the 2008 campaign, in which he lambasted Republicans for allowing the debt to rise to $8 trillion at the time. It now stands at more than $15 trillion.
The RNC will also host a conference call Friday with Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, who’s also expected to target Obama over the debt.
On the second day of his trip, Obama will again start in Ohio in the city of Poland, then cross the border into Pennsylvania and hold a campaign event in Pittsburgh.
The president was last in the Keystone State in mid June, when he held three fund-raisers in one day in Philadelphia. His wife, Michelle, also ventured to the city in early June and fired up a Philly crowd, urging them to turn out for her husband in November.
CNN rates Pennsylvania as a state leaning toward Obama. However, when Romney stopped there on his own bus tour, he predicted a victory later this year.
“I’ve got news for you,” Romney told a crowd at a campaign stop in Cornwall. “I am going to win Pennsylvania!”
A separate Quinnipiac survey released last week, however, indicated the president had a slight margin over Romney, 45% to 39%. Obama carried the state in 2008 with 55% of the vote.
Both campaigns have aired state-specific ads in Ohio and Pennsylvania. And according to a Republican ad buying source, the Obama campaign will spend more than $6 million on ads in Ohio during the month of July, with more than $900,000 going toward Pennsylvania. The amounts are part of a $25 million ad buy the campaign purchased this month.
The Romney campaign has not bought air time for the entire month yet but is already spending over $7.5 million through July 10.
While the president will end his tour Friday, he heads back out to another swing state next week, returning to Iowa for a campaign event in Cedar Rapids.