Kasie Hunt
and Charles Babington

VANDALIA: Ohio has emerged as the presidential race’s undisputed focus. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are making multiple stops this week alone in a state that’s trending toward the president, endangering Romney’s White House hopes.

The popularity of Obama’s auto industry bailout and a better-than-average local economy are undermining Romney’s call for Ohioans to return to their GOP-leaning ways, which were crucial to George W. Bush’s two elections. Ohio has 18 electoral votes, seventh most in the nation, and no Republican has won the White House without carrying it.

Romney is scrambling to reverse the polls that show Obama ahead. On Tuesday, he made the first of his four planned Ohio stops this week, joining his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, for a rally near Dayton. Today, Obama will visit the college towns of Kent and Bowling Green, and Romney’s bus tour will stop in the Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo areas.

“If this president persists on the road of making it harder and harder for small businesses to grow and thrive, he’s going to slowly but surely weaken our economy and turn us into Greece,” Romney told supporters Tuesday in Vandalia. He said the Obama administration has put government between patients and their doctors, and is picking winners and losers in private business.

“That is not the America that built Ohio!” Romney declared. His tone was urgent, but the points were standard campaign language from Romney. His allies hope they will start resonating in this crucial state.

Not even Florida has seen as many presidential TV campaign ads as Ohio, and neither nominee goes very long without visiting or talking about the state. When Obama touted his “decision to save the auto industry” on CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday, he mentioned not the major car-making state of Michigan but Ohio, which focuses more on car parts. “One in eight jobs in Ohio is dependent on the auto industry,” Obama said.

One problem for Romney is that Ohio’s 7.2 percent unemployment rate is below the national average, as the Republican governor, John Kasich, often reminds residents.

House Speaker John Boehner, from the Cincinnati area, told reporters last week in Washington: “One of the things that probably works against Romney in Ohio is the fact that Gov. Kasich has done such a good job of fixing government regulations in the state, attracting new businesses to the state.”

“People are still concerned about jobs in Ohio,” Boehner said, “but it certainly isn’t like you see in some other states.”

Still, a Fox News poll suggests there’s room for Romney to advance. Nearly one in three Ohio voters said they are “not at all satisfied” with the way things are going in the country, and an additional 26 percent are “not very satisfied.” Only 7 percent are “very satisfied,” and 34 percent are “somewhat satisfied.”