Obama at kickoff rally hits Romney as blast from past

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President Obama shifted his campaign to high gear in rallies in Ohio and Virginia – billed as the official kickoff of his quest for a second term – by asking voters for more patience to allow his policies time to work and casting his Republican rival Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch defender of Wall Street and the rich.

The first of two events to take place on college campuses Saturday, the president appeared before a crowd at Ohio State University in the early afternoon, delivering a 35-minute speech designed to persuade voters that his policies have put the economy on a path to recovery while characterizing Mr. Romney’s ideas as a return to the Republican agenda he argues led to the global economic collapse four years ago.

Standing near a banner that says “Forward,” the campaign’s new slogan, Mr. Obama, in shirt-sleeves and brown slacks, made his case before a packed crowd at the university’s Schottenstein Center arena, calling the election “a make or break moment for the middle class” and promoting a laundry list of policies aimed at helping average Americans – from a millionaires tax to freezing student loan rates.

“We have come too far to abandon the change we worked so hard for,” he said, arguing that his policies have helped protect the middle-class and level the playing field for all Americans. “That’s the choice of this election, and that’s why I’m running for a second term as president of the United States.

While Mr. Obama gave Mr. Romney credit for being a “patriotic American who raised a wonderful family and has much to be proud of,” he said the former governor of Massachusetts and successful businessman has drawn the wrong lessons from his experiences.

Mr. Romney, the president said, believes that if banks and financial firms make more money, the average American will too – a dynamic he said has not played out as U.S. businesses have downsized and moved operations overseas over the last two decades.

“Somehow, [Mr. Romney] thinks the same bad ideas will lead to a different result — or they’re hoping you won’t remember what happened the last time you gave them a shot,” Mr. Obama continued. “We are not going back. We remember, and we’re going to move this country forward.”

Even though he’s been in campaign mode for months, the president is hoping to energize younger voters, who were key to his 2008 victory, and chose to appeal to them directly at the two kickoff events at universities in critical swing states. At an event in Virginia’s Commonwealth University late Saturday afternoon, Mr. Obama delivered the same speech to a more supportive audience, which interrupted him several times with chants of “four more years.”

The Romney campaign quickly fired back at Mr. Obama, arguing that he is offering the same hollow promises of change that got him elected four years ago while Americans continue to suffer in a bad economy.

“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,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “While President Obama all but ignored his record over three and a half years in office, the American people won’t. This November, they will hold him accountable for his broken promises and ineffective leadership.”

Jobs figures released yesterday showed only modest gains, and weaker numbers than earlier this year dampened hopes that a solid economic recovery was under way. The unemployment rate decreased slightly, but mainly because many people stopped looking for work and left the job market entirely.

First lady Michelle Obama, sporting a turquoise sleeveless dress with a vibrant flower pin, spoke before the president’s remarks, insisting that his upbringing as the son of a single mother who struggled to put herself through school made him more sympathetic to the plight of working Americans and more committed to protect the middle class.

“This journey is going to be long and hard,” she said. “But that’s how all change happens in this country.”

Mr. Obama asked voters to think about where the country will be four years, 10 year and 20 years from now.

“The real question that will actually make a difference in your life or the lives of your children…is not just about how we’re doing today. It will be how are we going to be doing tomorrow,” he said. “When we look back four years from now or 10 years from now or 20 years from now, won’t we be better off if we have the courage to keep moving forward?”

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