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With early voting starting next week in the battleground state of Ohio, both presidential candidates courted voters there today with greater urgency, using a sport legend and China trade to make their cases.

Mitt Romney showcased his celebrity support, including golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, while President Barack Obama campaigned on a college campuses where he urged students to register and to take advantage of early voting, which in Ohio begins next week.

Romney, 65, is ramping up his schedule as he tries to tamp down complaints from some Republican leaders that he has spent too much time raising money. With two new polls showing Obama ahead in Ohio, Romney returned to his economic message during his two-day bus tour of the state, which started yesterday and includes three events today.

"We can't afford four more years like the last four years," Romney said during his second stop of the day, at a spring-wire manufacturing plant in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights. "We've got to get this economy going again."

Obama, 51, kept up his attacks on Romney's economic plans as he addressed a mostly college-age crowd of about 5,500 people at Bowling Green State University in Ohio's northwestern section.

He again used Romney's words, revealed in a video recorded at a fundraiser, that 47 percent of voters view themselves as victims who are dependent on government help.

No 'Victims'

"As I look out on this crowd I don't see a lot of victims, I see hard-working Ohioans," Obama said. "We don't believe in the government helping those who won't help themselves. But we do believe in opportunity."

A Washington Post poll released yesterday showed Obama leading in the state among likely voters, 52 percent to 44 percent. The survey showed 36 percent of all Ohio voters say they have been contacted by the Obama campaign, while 29 percent said that of Romney.

The Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll released today gave Obama a 53 percent to 43 percent advantage in Ohio, including a 25-percentage-point lead among women.

"The field is looking like it's narrowing for them," Jen Psaki, an Obama re-election spokeswoman told reporters on Air Force One traveling to Ohio. "We'd rather be us than them."

Ohio Prize

After Florida, where polls show Obama with a small lead, Ohio is the second-largest state among the 10 or so that strategists from both parties say will decide the election. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio, which has 18 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed. Today marked Obama's 13th visit to the state this year.

One of Romney's challenges is making his case is that Ohio's unemployment rate in August was 7.2 percent, lower than the national figure of 8.1 percent.

Obama, Romney and their allies aired more than 29,000 ads on Ohio television stations in the 30-day period ended Sept. 17, the most in any state.

Appearing with Romney today in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus, was Nicklaus, 72, an Ohio native known as the Golden Bear by his fans. He told the crowd that he likes the Republican nominee because of his free-market views.

"I didn't lean on someone else in tough times," he said of his golf game. "And when I won, I certainly didn't apologize for my success."

At the manufacturing plant in Bedford Heights, Romney was joined by Mike Rowe, best known as the host of the "Dirty Jobs" series on the Discovery Channel.

China Trade

Romney, as part of his criticism of Obama's record, said the president has been too lenient in dealing with China on trade issues.

"They've artificially held down the value of their currency, and by doing that the prices of their goods are artificially low," Romney said. "And that's why one thing I will do from day one is label China a currency manipulator. They must not steal jobs."

Obama sought to counter his challenger, telling his audience at Bowling Green that the claim by the onetime private equity executive that he would get tough on trade with China is "just not credible."

"He says he's going to take the fight to them," Obama said. "It sounds better than talking about all the years he spent profiting from companies that sent our jobs to China."

White House press secretary Jay Carney earlier told reporters on Obama's plane that "this president, the secretary of the Treasury and every high-level official who meets with their Chinese counterparts presses the Chinese" on the currency issue.

'Not Enough'

"We have seen some improvement on the currency situation, but not enough," Carney said.

The U.S. had a $295 billion trade deficit with China last year, an 8.2 percent increase over 2010. A report last month by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington said the imbalance between the world's two largest economies has resulted in the loss of 2.7 million U.S. jobs in the past decade.

Allowing the yuan to appreciate would make Chinese goods more expensive for American consumers than they are now, reducing U.S. imports of the merchandise. The currency has advanced 0.7 percent against the dollar this month, the most since December 2011.⅝

The two candidates spoke at about the same time and are scheduled to do so again later today from opposite side of the state. Obama will appear at Kent State University in eastern Ohio as Romney speaks in Toledo.

Battle for Votes

Romney and his aides said that even with Obama's lead in polls, it's too early to dismiss the Republican's chances in Ohio.

"We trust our internal polls," Rich Beeson, Romney's political director, told reporters on Romney's campaign plane. "I don't make any campaign decisions based on what I read in the Washington Post."

Beeson said Obama's campaign is displaying excess confidence, like a U.S. football player who celebrates before crossing into the end-zone for a score.

"They are sort of spiking the ball at the 30-yard line right now," he said. "There are still 42 days to go. We are, by any stretch, inside the margin of error in Ohio."

Romney is seeking to rebound from the political damage caused by the release last week of the secretly recorded video in which he told donors that 47 percent of Americans feel victimized and entitled to federal help and aren't likely to support his candidacy.

Asked about those comments in a CNN interview yesterday, Romney said he is "overwhelmingly committed to helping every American," especially those " in the middle and at the bottom that are struggling in the Obama economy."

—With assistance from Robin Meszoly in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Don Frederick