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Jay LaPrete, Associated Press
First lady Michelle Obama campaigns for her husband, President Barack Obama, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

CINCINNATI — Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and first lady Michelle Obama both drove home Ohio's status as a battleground state Monday in dueling visits that cast the past four years in two different lights.

Mrs. Obama called Ohio a key state needed to re-elect the president and emphasized her husband's accomplishments, from the federal health care law to ending the war in Iraq.

"While we still have a long way to go to completely rebuild our economy, there are more and more signs every day that we are headed in the right direction," Mrs. Obama told about 2,000 supporters at a gymnasium on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware in central Ohio.

Earlier Monday, Ryan told hundreds of supporters in southwestern Ohio that they're in "the battleground state of battleground states" and that they must vote for growth over stagnation in three weeks.

Ryan spoke to about 500 supporters at a Cincinnati airport on a chilly, breezy afternoon before serving them barbecue and asking, "Would you like pork?"

Ryan's airport rally means that the Republican ticket has been in a swing state six of the last eight days. Ryan and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney campaigned in different Ohio cities Saturday.

"Ohioans, you know you have a big say-so. You know you're the battleground state of battleground states," Ryan told the crowd. "That means you have within your control, your ability, to go find those people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, who just aren't as impressed these days, who heard the hope and the change ... but see this is nothing but a failed agenda of broken promises."

Ryan said "the window of opportunity to fix this mess is beginning to close on us" and urged supporters to vote early so they can focus on getting others to the polls on Nov. 6.

Mrs. Obama said it was the policies that her husband inherited that put the country in the mess he's worked to fix.

"Are we going to sit back and watch everything we worked for and fought for just slip away, or keep working to move this country forward?" she said.

Mrs. Obama opened her 30-minute speech by announcing she had cast her absentee ballot earlier in the day. "We're one vote closer to re-electing my husband," she said.

Kate Murphy, a Columbus consultant who waited in a long line to see Mrs. Obama on Monday, said she was feeling nervous about President Obama's chances.

"Especially living in the state of Ohio, we've heard a lot of negative campaigning," said Murphy, 63. "The numbers are slipping a little bit, so I think the debate's going to be important. Getting people out to vote is going to be important."

In Cincinnati, resident Lisa Woods wore red suede boots and a leather American flag jacket to Ryan's rally. She said she thinks he and Romney will be better for small-business owners like herself.

"I am taxed like crazy," said the 48-year-old married mother of an 8-year-old. "Between gas and groceries, I'm spending $6,000 more since 2008. I'm the first one who's willing to pay my fair share, but I'm also tired of sharing with everyone else who doesn't think there's a work ethic in this country."

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Ryan visited Ohio following a stop in Wisconsin and left the state soon after lunch to head for New York.

Mrs. Obama also will be in the state Monday as the race for November gets into its final weeks.

President Obama returns to the state Wednesday with an appearance at Ohio University in Athens, while former President Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen will campaign Thursday for Obama in Parma.

The Obama campaign also is running a new state TV ad featuring space hero and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn, who did a radio spot for Obama last month.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Delaware contributed to this report.