(CBS News) WESTERVILLE, Ohio - With a spate of recent polls showing him falling further behind the president in key swing states, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday focused his pitch to voters on paying down the national debt - one of the few areas where he continues to hold an advantage over President Obama.
"That clock up there shows our national debt," Romney said at a campaign rally, pointing to a debt clock set up by his campaign in a high school gymnasium in this Columbus suburb. "When I began this campaign it started with 15 trillion. ... Now there's over $16 trillion in debt. If (Obama) were reelected, I can assure you, it will be almost $20 trillion in debt."
that while Romney trails the president on issues including taxes, international affairs, and the handling of entitlement programs, the one area where he continues to have an edge is on addressing budget deficits and the national debt. Romney seized on the topic Wednesday, calling the current debt "an unthinkable amount" and arguing that the Federal Reserve has compounded the problem by keeping interest rates low.
"What's going to happen when those interest rates go up?" he asked a crowd 1,000 that gathered at the first of three stops in Ohio Wednesday. "That bill's going to get bigger and bigger. It is crushing. That's the course this president has put us on."
As president, he said he would get the country on track toward a balanced budget with spending cuts and caps. But Romney's proposal to simultaneously lower tax rates across-the-board have caused some to question whether he can balance the budget without getting rid of tax deductions that largely impact the middle class, including the home mortgage deduction and employer-provided health care deduction.
In explaining his tax plan today, Romney told the crowd he would simplify the tax code, but that they should not expect large tax cuts.
"Our individual income taxes are ones I want to reform, make them simpler. I want to bring the rates down," he said. "By the way, don't be expecting a huge cut in taxes because I'm also going to lower deductions and exemptions. But by bringing rates down, we'll be able to let small businesses keep more of their money so they can hire more people."
In a statement sent to reporters following Romney's remarks, an Obama campaign spokesman pointed out that he had not specified which tax deductions would be limited and whether they would fall on the middle class.
"With 41 days left, Mitt Romney has limited time to level with the American people about his record and plans for America. As each day passes, he continues to fail to do that," Lis Smith said in the statement.
Appearing with Romney in Westerville, was Ohio native and golf legend Jack Nicklaus, who endorsed the Republican nominee while tying his own success on the links to a philosophy embraced by conservatives.
"When I was competing, I didn't lean on someone else in tough times," Nicklaus said. "I know what I had to do on the golf course to succeed, and when I won, I certainly didn't apologize for my success."
Romney, who has chided the president for spending too much time golfing, called Nicklaus the "greatest athlete of the 20th century."