By Justin Sink
Mitt Romney railed against Chinese attempts to game trade regulations during a campaign appearance in Ohio Tuesday, as the Republican candidate looked to regain footing after a series of discouraging polls in the crucial swing state.
"People in Ohio can sell products anywhere, and can compete with anyone in the world. I understand when we trade and when other nations trade on a fair basis, we will create jobs. I understand when people cheat that kills jobs. China has cheated. I will not allow that to continue," Romney said.
"There is an Apple store in China selling Apple iPads and iPhones, except it is not an Apple store. It is counterfeit. This kind of practice has to stop," Romney said.
Romney later accused the Chinese of corporate and military espionage, saying American computer systems had been compromised.
"They have looked at computers of our corporations. This cannot be allowed. We cannot compete with people who do not play fair, and I will stop it in its tracks," Romney said.
Supporters at the event in Vandalia, Ohio, crowded around Romney and running mate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the local airport tarmac, using campaign signs for cover as rain pelted the event. But Romney's impassioned stump speech, and particularly his pledges to hold China accountable, drew cheers from the assembled crowd.
In a conference call earlier this week, Romney aide Ed Gillespie said the campaign saw continued attacks on China as a key part in attracting Ohio manufacturing workers. Romney has run a series of ads in the Buckeye State hammering the president as soft on China, although he did not explicitly hit President Obama on that particular issue during his stop Tuesday.
"I think it's clear that the message on China has resonated not only with the voters, but you can tell with the response from the Obama campaign," Gillespie said. "They went up with an ad in response to it on China and on top of that, the administration filed a case."
Gillespie was referencing a World Trade Organization case charging China with unfairly subsidizing automobile parts filed last week by the Obama administration. Romney had begun airing ads accusing Obama of being too lenient with China a few days before. The Romney adviser said there was "no doubt" that the issue was "particularly resonant in Ohio" — a statement further evidenced by the fact that Obama announced the trade case during a campaign stop in Cincinnati.
The Romney campaign needs the strategy to bear some results in the important swing state. A Washington Post survey released Tuesday morning showed the president with an eight-point lead in Ohio and an advantage over Romney when voters were asked who could better handle the economy and who best understood their economic struggles.
No Republican has ever won the White House without Ohio, and Romney will likely need to secure its 18 electoral votes to prevail in November.
In a statement issued shortly after the rally, the Obama campaign dismissed Romney as a "paper tiger" on Chinese trade.
"In his latest campaign ‘reset’, Mitt Romney is apparently trying to remake himself as a China trade warrior," said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. "But if his record is any indication, the voters of Ohio should be very wary of Romney’s empty promises on China."
Romney was joined at the event, his first appearance on the campaign's three-day swing through Ohio, by Ryan and Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Portman has been traveling with the campaign of late, helping Romney prepare for the looming presidential debates by playing Obama.
"He plays him well too, I have to tell you — I want to kick him out of the room or something," Romney joked. "He's so good. But he doesn't convince me — when we get finished he said, you won again."
Ryan, speaking before Romney, made an appeal to the region's strong military presence, promising a Romney administration would avoid dramatic defense cuts that could occur under sequestration. Democrats have also signaled their desire to avoid the cuts, although the parties differ on how to pay for the added costs.
"We believe in peace through strength, and that means not cutting the military, not shutting down that plant in Lima," Ryan said. "I see a Marine right there, Army right there, I saw a Navy guy right there. I know there is somebody from the Air Force here. Thank you for your service, we will honor you, and that means job security in Ohio as well."