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?"
The line earned a quick rebuke from the Republican National Committee, which argued that Mr. Obama was trying to move the goal posts and sent out a release highlighting his remarks four years ago when he said the "real question" was "will this country be better off four years from now."
"Even though Obama would like us to forget he's been president for the past three years, Americans aren't satisfied with the Obama policies that have resulted in 12.5 million Americans unemployed, 5.5 million mortgages in foreclosure or delinquent, and a record $5 trillion added to the debt," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Mr. Obama also took credit for ending the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden, decimating al Qaeda and achieving a 2014 exit strategy for Afghanistan.
Because of the "courage and selflessness" of the military, he pledged to protect veterans and help them transition back into the economy when they return from overseas.
In a defiant defense of his signature 2010 health care law, which is under Supreme Court review, Mr. Obama said 2.5 million young people can now stay on their parents' insurance, insurance companies can't kick people out for pre-existing conditions and can't charge women differently from men.
“We can't afford to spend the next four years going backward,” he said. “America does not need to fight the battles we just had on Wall Street reform and health care reform.”
In the last four years, gay Americans no longer have to live in fear of being kicked out the military because of "who you are and who you love," women's right to an abortion and affordable contraception aren't threatened and children born to illegal immigrants still have instant citizenship, he added.
"This country is at its best when we harness the God-given talents of every individual striving for the same dream."
Mr. Obama also teed up a string of attack lines against Mr. Romney that play into attempts to characterize him as an advocate for the corporate elite.
"I don't care how many times you try to explain it, corporations aren't people. People are people," he said, referring to a legal argument Mr. Romney made last year which Democrats seized on as emblematic a bias towards businesses and the free market.
"We measure prosperity, not just by our total GDP, not just by how many billionaires we produce, but by how well a typical family is doing, how far they will go on their hard work and dreams," Mr. Obama told the crowd.
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