By Justin Sink - 10/29/12 04:37 PM EDT
Mitt Romney called on supporters to "come together across the country" and donate money and supplies as Hurricane Sandy began pummeling the Eastern seaboard Monday.
Speaking in Ohio at one of the final events before he and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) plan to suspend campaigning in deference to the storm, Romney urged supporters to donate to the Red Cross or drop emergency supplies by Romney campaign offices across the country.
Romney added that Americans "have faced these challenges before" but that the country would persevere.
But even as the GOP nominee made his plea for supporters at the rally to help in the hurricane relief efforts, he underscored the difficulty of simultaneously asking for votes during a time of emergency.
"I know the people of the Atlantic Coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states, but I also think the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio," Romney said. "Because my guess is, my guess is that if Ohio elects me in as president I will be the next president of the United States."
Romney will still attend an afternoon rally in Davenport, Iowa, while Ryan will be at the first of three scheduled events in Florida. Earlier Monday, Romney communications director Gail Gitcho said the campaign was canceling the day's remaining events — along with scheduled rallies on Tuesday — "out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy."
With the exception of his comments on Hurricane Sandy, Romney delivered a largely standard campaign stump speech to the assembled crowd. But Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Romney's sparring partner in debate prep and a co-chair of his campaign, delivered an introduction that hammered President Obama over his handling of the auto bailout.
Portman said President Obama “took GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy" and called the president "wrong" to suggest Romney did not favor federal loan guarantees for the automakers.
"It is the policies that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to put in place that will make the auto industry strong," Portman argued.
That bracketing came just a day after the Romney campaign released a new ad in the state arguing “took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”
The Obama campaign has pushed back strongly against the ad, noting that Jeep is adding American auto jobs and expanding into China to sell cars to Chinese customers.
"If anyone is wondering whether he can be trusted to keep his promises, they should look no further than his new ad that falsely suggests that Jeep is moving production to China—a claim that has been debunked by Chrysler itself," Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith in a statement.
But the release of the ad — along with Portman's targeted remarks — suggests the Romney campaign is looking to improve his standing in Ohio among autoworkers. President Obama has held a small but steady lead in polling within the state, although the Romney campaign has said a gradually narrowing margin indicates that the Republican nominee will close the gap before election day.