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Romney closing gap in Ohio as poll numbers, crowds rise

PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is recovering ground in the critical swing state of Ohio as he rises in the polls and crowd numbers swell after his strong debate performance last week against President Barack Obama.

Despite pundits and pollsters dismissing Romney's chances in the state in late September, the Republican is now either tied or just barely trailing Obama in Ohio ahead of the next presidential debate on Tuesday night.

At an event with thousands of Ohioans on Friday night, Romney boasted of "a growing crescendo of enthusiasm." He has spoken to several large audiences in Ohio this week.

"(Obama's) campaign is about smaller and smaller things, and our campaign is about bigger and bigger crowds fighting for a bright future," he said on Saturday.

No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. Romney looks determined to put the state in his win column in the November 6 election after it appeared nearly out of reach last month.

After Saturday, Romney will have done 34 events in Ohio since securing the Republican nomination in April. Eleven of those, including a bus tour, came after the first debate on October 3.

Before the debate, polls showed Obama leading in Ohio by as much as 8 percentage points. From October 4 to October 10, the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls showed Obama's lead at 1.3 points.

Also courting Ohio, Obama on Saturday touted the benefits of one of his signature actions, the rescue of the U.S. auto industry. The 2009 bailout has saved thousands of Ohio jobs, particularly in the Toledo area, and helped the state's unemployment rate of 7.2 percent stay below the national average, Obama's campaign argues.

"We bet on American workers and American ingenuity, and three years later, that bet is paying off in a big way," Obama said in his weekly radio address.

"I want to see more cars on the road in places like South Korea imported from Detroit and Toledo and Chicago," Obama added.

The Obama campaign also said that rocker Bruce Springsteen and former President Bill Clinton would appear at an Obama rally in Ohio on Thursday.

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