DEFIANCE, Ohio – The scoreboard at the Defiance High School football stadium declared Romney 20, Ryan 12. It was not meant as a tally.
Also, on the board: fourth quarter, fourth down and 12 to go, as in 12 days before Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, learn whether they have unseated President Obama and Vice President Biden in the Nov. 6 election.
“We need to take America back,” Romney shouted Thursday to thousands of supporters on the field and in the bleachers. “I need Ohio. Ohio is going to set the course of the nation. We’re going to win!”
Romney spoke for more than 20 minutes, often interrupted by chants of “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” He spent most of his time vowing to improve the U.S. economy, saying he will create 12 million jobs by increasing domestic energy production, improving trade, reducing federal regulations on business and repealing the federal health care law, known as Obamacare, and replacing it “with reforms that help hold down health care costs.”
“I want to see more businesses, more jobs and more take-home pay,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
“This is a time for big challenges and a time of big opportunities,” Romney said. “We have a big choice, and frankly we’re going to elect a president that is willing to make big changes. I will. I’ll get the country growing again with your help.”
The audience was estimated at 12,000 people. The population of Defiance, which is 47 miles northeast of Fort Wayne, is about 17,000.
Romney also promised to cut federal spending and give parents more choice in where their children attend school.
“We cannot afford four more years like the last four years,” Romney said. “We cannot afford four more years of President Barack Obama.”
The crowd was treated to fireworks, country music, barbecue and all things red, white and blue. Audience members waved “Northwest Ohio Believes” posters and American flags as cool winds whipped through the stadium.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, appealed to autoworkers and their families to support Romney. A General Motors foundry is the largest industrial employer in Defiance, employing more than 1,300.
Portman, who acknowledged that he voted in favor of Obama’s bailout of GM and Chrysler, said Romney’s economic and trade policies are “going to be better for” autoworkers.
Romney, the former head of venture capital firm Bain Capital, “is a job creator,” Gov. John Kasich said.
Bob Latta, the area’s Republican congressman, railed against Obama, the health care law, federal regulations, high gasoline prices and the $16 trillion federal debt.
“That’s not a future. That’s not hope,” Latta said, not long before country singer John Rich took the stage.
Other performers included country singer Randy Owen and rock singer Meat Loaf, who said Romney is the first political candidate he has endorsed. “We need Ohio!” Meat Loaf yelled at the crowd.
The Buckeye State is considered among a half-dozen “battleground” states that will decide whether Obama wins a second four-year term. Many political pundits believe it is unlikely Romney will be elected unless he carries Ohio.
Mark Haver, an attorney from Hicksville, Ohio, brought his 13-year-old son, Arman, to the rally. Haver said in an interview that northwest Ohio residents “are much more enthusiastic” for Romney than they were for the 2008 Republican candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who visited Defiance days before that year’s election.
“I don’t think (Obama) has really focused on jobs as much as he should have,” the attorney said. “I think that’s Romney’s advantage.”
People were lining up at 3 p.m. for the rally, which began about 6:30. Early birds included Carol Warnecke and Cathy Lawhorn of Putnam County, Ohio. Each woman wore a Romney campaign T-shirt and a baseball cap with the message “Coal = Jobs.”
“Dig, baby, dig,” Warnecke said, a variation of “Drill, baby, drill,” the Republican ticket’s energy slogan four years ago.
Asked whether she had backed Romney or Rick Santorum in the Ohio Republican primary election – Santorum clobbered Romney in northwest Ohio counties – Warnecke said, “I was for anybody but Obama.”
She said about Romney: “We can trust this man. He’s not going to lie to us.”
A few dozen Obama supporters waved signs at traffic entering the school grounds. One said “Romney Brought to You by Wall Street.”
Earlier Thursday, Romney appeared at campaign rallies in Cincinnati and Worthington, Ohio.