GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan campaigned in Colorado for running mate Mitt Romney on Monday, a critical day highlighted by the final presidential debate and the start of early voting.

The Republican vice presidential candidate began in Pueblo, where he visited Vision Mechanical, a heating and air conditioning manufacturing company that has cut 95 jobs this year, and then spoke to about 1,000 people outside. The company had 158 employees in April and only 63 now, owner Bill Singleton said.

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“But they’re fighting, they’re surviving,” Ryan said.

He said small businesses like Singleton’s are “the engine of economic growth and opportunity in America” and that they’re being saddled with a heavy tax burden under the Barack Obama administration.

“The good news is we can get this back. We can grow this economy like it’s supposed to grow,” Ryan said.

VIDEO: Paul Ryan In Pueblo

Ryan also said the country is on the path to a debt crisis like the one developing in Europe and pledged to keep the military strong if he and Romney are elected, echoing his message to voters in Colorado Springs on Sunday.

His tour of Colorado, which also included stops Monday in Durango and Grand Junction, marks a week when the state’s status as a battleground is in the spotlight. Romney and Ryan were also planning a rally in Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Tuesday with Kid Rock and others. Obama planned to be in Denver on Wednesday.

Ryan urged people to take advantage of early voting in Colorado.

“This is the most important election in our lifetime, no matter what generation you’re from,” he said.

Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats were urging voters to vote early for Obama. Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and Mayor Michael Hancock all walked to an election center near the state Capitol to cast their votes for the president.

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The Obama campaign has responded to the criticism of the administration’s economic policies by arguing that electing Romney would be a return to the policies that led to the recession.

The candidates’ running mates were on the road Monday in battleground states while Obama and Romney were preparing for their crucial final debate, focused on foreign policy.

While Ryan was in Colorado, Biden was campaigning in Ohio.

In Durango, Ryan rallied with about 1,500 people at Fort Lewis College, with House Speaker John Boehner in attendance.

Ryan said Obama’s tax policies would harm the middle class and small businesses, despite the president’s assertion that only the wealthiest will see a change.

“He wants you guys to think you’re just getting people like Peyton Manning or John Elway or some Wall Street guy,” Ryan said.

At a Grand Junction’s Mesa University, where about 2,000 people attended a rally, Ryan tried to get the crowd excited about the evening’s final presidential debate.

“We’re going to have the opportunity to see a man who’s ready to be our next president in Mitt Romney,” he said.

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

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