In the first of two campaign kick-off speeches today, President Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at Ohio State University that the election is a choice between “moving forward” and a return to the Republican policies that led to the most serious recession most Americans have known in their lifetimes.
To turn the White House over to Republican challenger Mitt Romney now, Obama said, would be to return to economic policies favoring tax cuts for the wealthy over the middle class and the loose regulatory environment that led to widespread abuses on Wall Street and near financial disaster.
“It was a house of cards and it collapsed,” Obama said. “ … The Republicans who run this Congress have insisted we go right back to the policies that created this mess,” including “bigger tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans,” deep cuts in Medicare and education programs, and giving banks and insurance companies “more power to do as they please.”
Romney would be a "rubber stamp" for those policies, he said, as the people in the crowd of roughly 14,000 booed, many of them carrying the campaign’s signature “Forward” placards.
Although the president has been in campaign mode for months, raising money and spelling out his next-term agenda at appearances around the county, his campaign billed twin speeches today in two important swing states as the “official” opening of the reelection effort. The second event is scheduled at 4:55 p.m. today at Virginia Commonwealth University, the choice of venues highlighting the campaign’s intense courtship of young voters.
At Ohio State in Columbus, Obama mentioned Romney by name sparingly, and complimented him on raising a nice family and developing successful careers as the governor of Massachusetts and as the head of a “financial firm.” Even then, the praise was back-handed, given that Obama opted to tie Romney to the ill-favored industry rather than describe him more generically as a businessman. Romney made his fortune as the head of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm.
He also sharply took his opponent to task several times, for Romney’s criticism of the Iraq troop withdrawal, for a newspaper column Romney wrote titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and for the GOP candidate’s offhand remark at a campaign event that “corporations are people.”
“I don't care how many ways you try to explain it,” Obama said. “Corporations aren’t people. People are people, my friends.”
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement, “No matter how many lofty campaign speeches President Obama gives, the fact remains that American families are struggling on his watch: to pay their bills, find a job and keep their homes. While President Obama all but ignored his record over three and a half years in office, the American people won’t.”
Although the speech and the crowd reaction lacked some of the fire of his first campaign for president, Obama was interrupted three times by the audience chanting “Four more years!”
He was introduced by first lady Michelle Obama, who offered an emotional description of her upbringing and that of her husband’s by hard-working parents who scrimped to get their kids into college. Obama appeared in a blue dress shirt and slacks, but without a tie and his sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
Obama acknowledged the biggest obstacle to his reelection: an economy “still facing headwinds” and registering only sluggish job growth. He also admitted that it may in fact be impossible for most Americans to answer in the affirmative that all-important presidential job-rating question: Are you better off now that you were four years ago?
“The problem with our economy isn’t that the American people aren’t productive enough,” Obama said. It's that “harder work hasn’t led to higher income. It's that bigger profits haven’t led to better jobs. Governor Romney does not seem to get that. Maxmizing profits by whatever means necessary might not always be good for average Americans.
“ ... The real question, the one that will make a difference in your life and in the lives of your children is not how am I doing today, but how are we doing tomorrow?” he said.
And then, evoking the themes of his 2008 campaign, Obama said, “It’s still about hope. It’s still about change. It’s still about ordinary people in the face of great odds making a difference in the life of this country. Because I still believe we are not as divided as our politics suggest, we have more in common than the pundits tell us, we are not just Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans first and foremost.
“ … I still believe in you and I’m asking you to keep believing in me,” he said. “In 2008, I told you I was not a perfect man and I would not be a perfect president. I also told you I would tell you what I thought and where I stood, and wake up every day fighting for you as hard as I know how. I kept that promise … If you’re willing to stick with me, to fight with me, to press on with me, to work even harder in this election than in the last election, we will move this country forward.”
Obama won Ohio and Virginia in 2008, and both are considered pivotal to Romney's chances of unseating him. The incumbent is favored 51 percent to 44 percent among registered voters in Virginia, according to a Washington Post poll published this week. But in Ohio, he is running neck-and-neck with Romney, 44 percent to 42 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll also published this week.