Jim Carney

NORTH CANTON: The Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan asked an Ohio crowd Friday to help take them to the White House.

“Thank you, Ohio — you are going to make it happen!” Romney told several thousand supporters gathered on the baseball field at Hoover High School.

Romney praised the crowd for its “Ohio welcome.”

“What a thrill to be here,” he said. “You warm our hearts on such a cool evening.”

The crowd — there were 12,000 tickets handed out but authorities provided no estimate for how many actually attended — immediately began cheering: “Romney! Romney! Romney!”

Romney, 65, the former governor of Massachusetts, said this year’s election matters.

“You know how big this race is,” he said. “This is an election of consequence.”

Romney said the Nov. 6 election will have a “huge impact on our families. … These are tough times.”

He added that he and his running mate want “big change.”

“We face big challenges,” he said. “We want real change.”

It is the nature of Americans, he said, to live for things bigger than themselves.

“This a critical time for the country,” he said. “This is a time for greatness. … We are taking back America. … America will remain the hope of the Earth.”

Romney and Ryan arrived in North Canton as one national poll showed the Republican team pulling to a 5-point lead among likely voters.

Ryan walked onstage to roaring applause.

“O! H!” he said to the cheering crowd.

Then he showed the crowd a lucky buckeye.

“Ohio, are you ready to help us win?” he asked. “Ohio, you know you are the epicenter of choosing the future of this country. … These are serious times. ... We need leadership. … Mitt Romney is the kind of leader who is made for this moment.”

The Republicans also brought some star power to the event.

Actress addresses crowd

Patricia Heaton, a Cleveland native and Hollywood actress from the television shows Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle, pumped up the crowd for Romney.

“On Nov. 6, we have the opportunity to vote for someone who has been a successful job creator,” she said.

During her brief appearance, Heaton also made fun of the Cleveland Browns and took a strange jab at Akron. “I was born on the west side of Cleveland,” she said. “You know what Cleveland’s motto is: At least we’re not Akron.”

She then went on to say that after driving through Stark County, the motto should be: “We wish we were Canton.”

For more than three hours, as temperatures dropped on the frigid October night, thousands of people like Katherine Killeen filed into the ballpark.

“There are a lot of people hungry for change in Ohio,” said the suburban Cleveland woman, who wore a “Nobama” T-shirt she bought while waiting in line.

Ohio has been ground zero for the campaign all month and is likely to remain the focus of both Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to speak in Akron on Wednesday.

The reason Romney and Ryan chose to make a stop in Stark County is clear. Since 1980, except for 2004, county voters have picked the president every time.

‘Wonderful predictor’

“It really is a bellwether,” said University of Akron political science professor and fellow Dave Cohen of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “It is a wonderful predictor of how the election in Ohio will go.”

Not only that, Cohen said, Stark County is a microcosm of Ohio, just like Ohio is a microcosm of the country.

The county is a “nice mix of rural, urban and suburban areas and if you can win Stark County, you can win the state of Ohio because you can appeal to the general cross section of voters you need to win the state,” he said.

Close polling

A Gallup Poll released Friday showed Romney with a 51 percent to 46 percent lead over Obama. The Real Clear Politics average of polls had Romney with a 47.9 to 47 percent advantage; and the Real Clear Politics average of Ohio polls showed Obama leading the Buckeye State 48 percent to 45.9 percent.

Duane Wasnak, 67, of Carrollton, arrived three hours before the speech.

“It’s going to be close but I think we are going to edge Obama out,” said Wasnak, who is retired from Timken Co. “It’s time for a change. Obama had his shot. The economy is no better. … The whole situation is bad.”

Elisa Leonard, Stark County Republican Party executive director, said local polling shows the race in Stark County is competitive.

“Stark County looks energized and in play,” she said. “We haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm since 2000.”

The country music group the Oak Ridge Boys warmed up the crowd singing several of their hits.

Donna and Les Kuglics of Green, parents of Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Kuglics, who was killed in Iraq in 2007, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com.