- NEW: Romney: My "heart aches" for people who are struggling, releases new campaign ad on economy
- Ohio has chosen the winning presidential candidate since 1964
- Poll numbers show uphill battle in swing states for Romney as both presidential candidates campaign in Ohio
- The auto bailout is a key issue in Ohio where 800,000 jobs are tied to the industry
(CNN) -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shifted his focus back to the economy Wednesday after a brief foray into foreign policy, hammering away at President Barack Obama's economic policies on the same day his campaign released a new ad which says the president's policies aren't working for most Americans.
"It's not just more stimulus and more government and an increase in income taxes, there's something else he wants to do that's the same as he's done in the past, and that is trillion dollar deficits," Romney told a crowd of about 2,000 people in a high school gym outside Columbus, Ohio. "That clock up there shows our national debt. When I began this campaign it started with 15 trillion. I mean what is a trillion? It's a thousand billions. It's an unthinkable amount."
Later in his speech, Romney echoed the message in his campaign ad -- that there is a right way and a wrong way toward economic progress.
"I know what it takes to get this economy going again. I care about the people of America," Romney said. "And the difference between me and President Obama is I know what to do and I will do what it takes to get this economy going."
He said his "heart aches" for families who are struggling.
Romney and Obama are both campaigning in Ohio Wednesday, seen as one of the most crucial battleground states in the race for the White House. The state has chosen the winning presidential candidate in the past 12 elections.
Golfing legend and Ohio native Jack Nicklaus also spoke at the event, discussing his company's economic hardship.
"Over the last four years I have been forced to let go over 50% of my staff," Nicklaus said. "These are not just people who have worked for me for years. These are people who have worked for me for decades."
He also urged the crowd to get to the polls.
"Make sure you vote. Make sure your family votes. Make sure your friends vote. Make new friends and make sure they vote," Nicklaus said. "President Obama's slogan has gone from 'yes we can' to 'no I can't,' so it is time for a new president -- someone who is not afraid to say `yes, I will.'"
Early voting for Ohio's 18 electoral votes starts on October 2, a day before the first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado.
Romney is also to speak in Bedford Heights, just south of Cleveland, and in Toledo, on the state's northern border with Michigan. Obama will come close to the Romney rallies at both of his appearances in college towns -- Bowling Green and Kent.
After spending part of the day with Romney's bus tour in Ohio Tuesday, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan heads to Colorado.
Recent polling suggests that Romney might have a harder time winning Ohio than Obama. A CBS/Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday gives the president a 10-point edge in the Buckeye State.
Obama won Ohio by five points in 2008, but the GOP answered back big in the 2010 midterm elections and took back the governor's office and five House seats held by Democrats.
While some point to strategy as the reason for the campaign's struggles in Ohio, Romney has to face auto workers in that state, where industry research shows some 800,000 jobs are tied to the industry.
Romney penned an opinion piece in the New York Times, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," in May 2008, arguing for a different restructuring approach for gasping U.S. automakers than the bailout option being considered at the time in Washington.
According to a Washington Post poll, 64% of Ohio registered voters view the more than $60 billion in bailout loans and working capital eventually extended to General Motors and Chrysler under the Bush and Obama administrations as "mostly good" for the state's economy. Only 29% said the bailout was "mostly bad."
Obama pushed the two industry icons into a managed bankruptcy in 2009 that relied heavily on taxpayer financial assistance. They emerged much leaner and started making money on stronger sales.
The rescue has been a bright spot for Obama in an otherwise dismal economy and his campaign is aggressively promoting the role federal intervention played in preserving and creating jobs in hard-hit Michigan and Ohio.
The Romney campaign cautioned against reading too much into recent poll numbers, saying its internal polling shows a different game.
"The public polls are what they are. I feel confident where we are," Romney political director Rich Beeson said in a briefing with reporters.
Romney also dismissed the importance of polls that show him behind the president in key battleground states.
"Part of a campaign is to meet people. There is no time off. Taking our message to the country," Romney told CNN's Jim Acosta. "Polls go up and down. We don't want a government getting larger and larger and getting more intrusive in our lives."
Romney on Tuesday reiterated his plan for creating new jobs in a down economy and said Obama would raise taxes. Speaking to college students and recent graduates, Romney pointed out that 50% of college graduates can't find jobs.
"Look at your friends, half of you can't work, don't you understand where [Barack Obama is] taking this country?" Romney asked the crowd.
Foreign policy messages for domestic audiences
Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly and the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday amid criticism from his Republican opponent that his foreign policy "projects weakness." Obama confronted Iran and Syria and warned those who killed an American diplomat in Libya that they would be held accountable.
"The attacks on our civilians in Benghazi were attacks on America," Obama told the United Nations General Assembly. "There should be no doubt that we will be relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice."
Both Romney and Ryan have in recent days challenged Obama's foreign policy record, which is perceived to be a strength for the incumbent.
In Colorado on Monday, Romney said Obama's characterization of the recent unrest in the Middle East as a "bump in the road" belittled the gravity of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September 11 that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
"Bumps in the road?" Romney asked. "We had an ambassador assassinated. We had a Muslim Brotherhood member elected to the presidency of Egypt. Twenty thousand people have been killed in Syria. We have tumult in Pakistan and, of course, Iran is that much closer to having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon."
Ryan said in Ohio that Obama's policies "project weakness."
"When you project American weakness -- the superpower projecting weakness -- that creates a vacuum, that creates a void," Ryan added. "That void gets filled by people in countries who do not share our interests. It means our adversaries are that much more tempted to test us and our allies are much less likely to trust us, like Israel."
The president praised the Libyan government for its cooperation in investigating the attack that killed Stevens, but he defended freedom of speech -- the unrest in the Muslim world grew out of a film produced in the United States that mocked the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.
"The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech," Obama said, adding that "there is no speech that justifies mindless violence."
Clinton hosts Obama and Romney
Romney continued the conversation about the Middle East, albeit in a less confrontational way, when he spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative, tying his plan for economic development through trade and free enterprise to stability in the region.
"Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem," Romney said of the tension and violence in the Middle East. "But that's not the whole story."
Citing the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire and sparked the Arab Spring, Romney said the vendor who was humiliated by government forces wanted to provide for his family.
The freedom of an individual to work, Romney said, is at the core of his foreign aid plan.
Romney unveiled what his campaign calls his "Prosperity Pact," a re-engineering of the way America approaches foreign assistance. The plan ties U.S. trade policy to development in foreign nations by identifying barriers to trade and investment in developing countries.
Obama: America could survive Romney, but wouldn't thrive
The president and first lady Michelle Obama's taped appearance on ABC's "The View" appeared on Tuesday as well. Barbara Walters asked if it would be terrible for the country if Romney won.
"We can survive a lot," Obama answered, saying he thought Romney was a good man and means well.
"But the American people don't want to just survive. We want to thrive. I've just got a different vision of how we grow an economy. We grow fastest when the middle class is doing well," Obama said.
Battleground polls show Obama ahead
Battleground state polls released this week show large gaps in key states other than Ohio for Romney.
A Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times Swing State Poll released Wednesday shows Romney behind in Florida and Pennsylvania. In Florida and Ohio, the gaps have widened since an August 23 poll and stayed the same since the August 1 poll in Pennsylvania. In each state, women voters favor Obama by double digits.
And new polls released in four battleground states on Tuesday all indicate Obama ahead of Romney by four to eight points.
The polls were released in Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Nevada, which together account for 59 electoral votes. The surveys were released by the Washington Post and American Research Group and were conducted over the past six days, after the release of secretly recorded clips from a May fundraiser in which Romney casts Obama supporters as dependent on government. The story dominated coverage of the race for the White House last week.
In each survey, Obama's advantage is within the poll's sampling error, but each indicates the president grabbing at least 50% of the likely voters interviewed.
CNN's Kevin Liptak, Ashley Killough, Rachel Streitfeld and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report