Southeast Ohio is getting its turn in the presidential campaign spotlight, with Republican Sen. Rand Paul stumping for Mitt Romney in Marietta Friday and President Barack Obama headed for Athens Wednesday.
Romney himself was slated to appear in Portsmouth Saturday as he, Obama and their surrogates traverse the Buckeye State, one of the key battlegrounds in the race for the White House.
Neither the time, the venue nor many other details had been released Friday about Obama's stop in Athens on Wednesday, a day after the second presidential debate. But there was already excitement brewing among area Democrats.
"I assume there will be a car or two or three" going to Athens from Washington County for the event, said Molly Varner, chairwoman of the county Democratic Party. "We've been anxious to see the president all through the campaign and to think that he will be in Athens is just wonderful."
Tickets are expected to be available at the local Obama headquarters at 227 Putnam St. in Marietta on Sunday afternoon.
As information was first emerging about the president's impending visit, more than 100 people braved the cold Friday to catch Paul, the U.S. senator from Kentucky and son of GOP presidential hopeful Congressman Ron Paul, speak in Marietta's Muskingum Park.
"What Gov. Romney and (running mate) Paul Ryan are selling is the American dream," he said.
Paul emphasized that people who are constantly given government "handouts" do not have the opportunity to live out that American dream. They are actually crippled in the long run, he said, both because it reduces their drive to succeed and because it hurts the overall economy.
"What we do when we borrow this money to, say, give out government-subsidized cell phones, is we devalue the dollar," he said.
"The poor are hurt when we drive up prices on necessities like gas and food and make it even harder to get out of this cycle," Paul said after his speech.
The point resonated well with attendees, who were a mix of local voters and public officials.
State Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he thought Paul exemplified the Republican party's message.
"We want a return to constitutional government. You know, we have a great energy sector here, and that is something that can have a great positive economic impact," said.
Paul noted he is also from "coal country" and maintained that the coal industry has been jeopardized by Obama's policies.
"Obama disqualified himself to represent Ohio when he declared war on coal in Ohio in 2007," said Paul.
Paul said he also feels that someone who put restrictions on the coal industry will do the same to the burgeoning oil and gas industry, something that can be avoided by voting for Romney.
"I thought he brought up a lot of excellent points about coal and keeping those as good-paying jobs," said Vincent resident A.J. Nuzum, 34.
Obama supporters, meanwhile, say coal production is up 7 percent and coal jobs have increased 10 percent during the president's time in office. The administration also touts a 31 percent increase in coal exports and greater flexibility in enforcing new environmental standards.
Paul also spoke in Athens Friday and will be appearing in Michigan and Missouri over the next week.
The campaign focus has tightened to less than 10 states believed to still be up for grabs, including Ohio, which no Republican has not carried and still won the White House.
In addition to Portsmouth, Romney was campaigning in Lebanon Saturday before joining up with Ryan in Youngstown. First lady Michelle Obama will be in the central Ohio city of Delaware and in Cleveland on Monday.
Another face familiar to many residents will be in Marietta Saturday, with former Ohio first lady Frances Strickland coming to town for a door-to-door canvassing effort starting from the Obama headquarters on Putnam Street around 5 p.m.
"I'm delighted that Frances is coming to town to highlight the Obama campaign," Varner said.
The Associated Press contributed.