VANDALIA, OH – For the Romney campaign, Tuesday brought yet more bad news from the Buckeye state: a new Washington Post poll showed the Republican presidential nominee trailing President Barack Obama by eight points in this critical battleground state, with 52 percent of Ohio voters in favor of giving the incumbent another four years.
Before Mitt Romney's plane touched down at the Dayton airport today, two top aides were dispatched to the press cabin to put out possible fires the numbers might have sparked.
"The public polls are what the public polls are," Romney Political Director Rich Beeson told reporters. "I kind of hope the Obama campaign is basing their campaign on what the public polls say. We don’t. We have confidence in our data and our metrics."
What the Romney team’s data indicated about Ohio, Beeson wouldn't say. He argued that Romney was inside the margin of error here “by any stretch,” and dismissed the much-hyped Obama ground game in Ohio as activity confused with progress.
"I will put our operation up against anybody’s. But at the end of the day, Ohio is going to come down to the wire and we’ll be in it down to the wire and I’m confident that we will win,” Beeson said.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Romney's Ohio chairman Rob Portman projected similar confidence that Romney would carry his home state, despite the mounting poll data showing him slipping further behind President Obama. He told NBC News that the Romney campaign was taking a page out of then-candidate Obama's book by attempting to run a more regional campaign inside the state.
"I do think there is a strategy, which the Obama administration is very good at, which is to you know, target particular groups of people and particular regions and you know, the Romney campaign is doing it as well," Portman said.
Portman, a freshman senator, then ticked off the various demographics and localities and how they're being targeted by the Romney campaign: running advertisements accusing the president of a war on coal in the east; talking fracking in communities near the Marcellus and Utica shale formations; and focusing on trade and China in heavy manufacturing areas like the Mahoning Valley, Northeast Ohio and here in Dayton.
"I think that's one way we're going to win Ohio, by addressing the issues region by region," Portman said. "There isn't just one Ohio. It’s not monolithic."
Moments earlier, Romney had done exactly what Portman suggested; running as much against China's trade practices as the incumbent president, and vowing to fight back to preserve jobs.
"This cannot be allowed," Romney said of alleged Chinese trade abuses. "We cannot compete with people who don't play fair and I won't let that go on, I will stop it in its tracks."
In addition to his role as Romney's Ohio campaign chairman, Portman also serves as Romney's debate sparring partner, a role at which he is so good, Romney claims, the GOP nominee sometimes wants "to kick him out of the room."
Asked how debate preparations were going, Portman shrewdly looked to lower expectations for Romney, and raise them for Obama, ahead of the first showdown on Oct. 3rd.
"When you think about it, [Romney] hasn't had a real debate in 10 years," Portman said, claiming the 20-plus GOP debates Romney participated in during the primaries were not one-on-one, and were more like candidate forums than true debates.
He also heaped praise on Obama's debating skills: "Barack Obama is going to be formidable. I think it'll be a good debate, but I certainly would not underestimate what Barack Obama brings to it: a lot of experience in these kinds of debates and obviously a lot of knowledge and background on the federal issues."