Job creation and the growing national debt were some of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s talking points during a Central Ohio campaign event on Wednesday.
Romney returned to the Columbus area for the first time since Aug. 25 to speak at Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio, about 20 minutes from Ohio State’s campus.
The event was scheduled to start at 8 a.m., but Romney didn’t take the stage until about 9:10 a.m., where he spoke for about 20 minutes to the 1,700-person crowd in the school’s gymnasium. An overflow crowd of about 350 was set up in another room.
Romney talked about his experience with the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and the importance of balancing the budget. In a series of questions, Romney asked the crowd if they wanted four more years of job loss and trillion dollar deficits.
“We can’t afford four more years, we must do better,” Romney told the crowd, who responded with applause.
Throughout parts of his speech and the hour that the crowd was in place prior to Romney taking the stage, a calculator was running on the side of the stage counting additions to the roughly $16 trillion national debt as the seconds passed.
Referencing the calculator, Romney said the growing national deficit needs to be addressed, or else they will be passed on to the next generation.
Romney said the government needs to control its spending or it will collapse.
“We’re on the road to Europe, we’re on the road to Greece, and I’ll get us off that road,” he said.
From the time Romney began his speech to when he left the stage, the debt calculator had gained almost $35 million.
About halfway through his 20-minute speech, a few individuals began heckling Romney before they were escorted out of the gymnasium, and drowned out by chants of “USA.”
Even with the event’s early morning start, some OSU students made a point to attend the event.
“I’ve never really done anything like this before. This is a really important election so I want to be more involved,” said Kaitlin Watterson, a fourth-year in communication.
She said she thinks Romney will help bring the U.S. out of a decline.
“I am excited to see someone who can change things drastically,” Watterson said.
People such as Mike Grumney, an Otterbein University student and president of Otterbein University Republicans, thought Romney’s points about the economy were significant, and said Romney could help fix American economic issues.
“Personally I don’t think we are really better off than we were four years ago and I’m really excited to see how a businessman, a financial guy like Mitt Romney, to see what he can come in here and do to sort of mix things up and hopefully get us back on track,” Grumney said.
Romney’s remarks were preceded by short speeches from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, and well-known golfer and OSU alumnus Jack Nicklaus.
The event was originally scheduled to be an outdoor event at Alum Creek Park Amphitheater, but was moved prior to the day of the rally due to weather concerns, according to an email from the campaign.
Outside Westerville South, protestors were lined up on the sidewalk holding signs and chanting. Some of the protestors were dressed as Christmas elves and reindeer, holding signs about outsourcing jobs and job cuts. The Christmas theme was “inspired” by a comment from former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month.
Jerid Kurtz, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, was among the protestors, who arrived at the high school at about 6:30 a.m.
“Gov. Strickland, during his Democratic National Convention speech, noted that if Mitt Romney were Santa Claus, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves,” Kurtz said. “So today Santa’s outsourced elves have traveled to Westerville to try to seek an audience with Romney.”
The protestors were chanting, “Ho ho ho, Romney’s gotta go,” and, “We don’t need no Bain economy.”
President Barack Obama was also in Ohio Wednesday. He traveled to speak at Bowling Green State University and Kent State University.
In his speech at Kent State, Obama criticized Romney’s proposal to cut the national deficit by $5 trillion without providing specific details on his plans.
“No matter how many times they try to tell you they’re going to start talking specifics really soon, they don’t do it, and the reason is because the math doesn’t work,” Obama said.
Ally Marotti, Kayla Byler and Liz Young contributed to this article.