Cody Cousino / Photo editor
President Barack Obama said it was good to be back in Ohio, focusing on a “forward-thinking America” on the first stop of his 2012 presidential re-election campaign.
In his second visit to Ohio State’s campus in fewer than two months, the president spoke before about 14,000 people in the Schottenstein Center Saturday at his “Ready To Go” Rally.
The Schottenstein Center seats about 18,300 people. Organizers allowed those in lower bowl seats to move to the floor to give the illusion the arena was filled closer to capacity for TV cameras.
Obama focused on several topics, including the economy, education, ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and women’s rights, all at a time that he said is a “make or break moment for the middle class.”
He said it was important to be a “bold, forward-thinking America,” calling out strategies of Republican leaders and that of likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“For the last few years, the Republicans who run this Congress have insisted that we go right back to policies that created this mess,” Obama said.
He said they want bigger tax cuts for wealthy Americans, cuts to Medicare, research and technology, and to give more power to banks and insurance companies to “do as they please.”
“And now, after a long and spirited primary, Republicans in Congress have found a nominee for president who has promised to rubber-stamp this agenda if he gets the chance,” Obama said. “Ohio, I tell you what: We cannot give him that chance. Not now. Not with so much at stake.”
He said Romney doesn’t understand the government can’t maximize profits by any means necessary. He said Romney assumes that if CEOs are making money, the middle class will as well, for example.
“He and his friends in Congress think that the same bad ideas will lead to a different result,” Obama said. “Or, they’re just hoping you won’t remember the last time we tried it their way.”
Obama rattled off several reasons as to why he’s running for a second term. One of which included proposing sending two million more Americans to community college.
He also said he plans to spend half the money saved from pulling the military out of Iraq and Afghanistan on the national deficit and the other half on infrastructure, including roads and wireless Internet.
He was critical on spending and the economy since the 2008 recession. He said the free market, when not abused, allows America to prosper, but he said our country strayed from some basic tenets.
Obama said a massive surplus was squandered on tax cuts for people who didn’t need them. He also said wars were waged on the credit card, Wall Street speculators reaped huge profits by making bets with other people’s money, and manufacturing left our shores.
“It was a house of cards that collapsed in the most destructive crisis since the Great Depression,” Obama said.
He said the U.S. auto industry has recovered since the government bailout after the 2008 recession. He also said jobs are being added for the first time since the 1990s, exports surged, and more than 4 million jobs were created in the last two years.
However, he said people are still looking for work, the housing market is weak, deficits are high, and people are still being laid off from their jobs.
“It was tough, but I tell you what, Ohio, the American people are tougher,” Obama said.
The president said he is going to win this campaign “the old-fashioned way” by going door-to-door, despite videos screened for the crowd before his appearance focusing on social media websites such as Twitter and YouTube.
Audience members were also asked before the president spoke to call a friend and ask them to support Obama.
First Lady Michelle Obama took the podium before the president and spoke for about 25 minutes. She said she and her husband were in Columbus for “the vision we all share.”
Michelle Obama spoke about “basic American values” and the “world she wants to leave” for today’s children, which includes schools that should push them to prepare them for good jobs and allowing their parents and grandparents to retire with dignity.
“It’s that fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself, and yes, an even better life for your kids,” Michelle Obama said.
She also spoke about student loans. The current student loan interest rate cut expires on July 1, meaning interest rates will double if the cut is not renewed.
She said most of her college education – she received her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University in 1985 – was paid for via loans and grants, but her dad “couldn’t bear the thought” of being late paying a bill that would jeopardize his children missing the registration deadline.
“We want to restore that basic middle-class security to our families because we believe that folks shouldn’t go bankrupt because they get sick,” Michelle Obama said. “They shouldn’t lose their home because someone loses a job. We believe that responsibility should be rewarded and hard work should pay off.”
Also speaking before the Obamas were Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn, all of whom are Democrats.
Ryan Williams, a spokesman for the Romney campaign, said Obama failed to mention his poor economic record.
“The speech the president gave today was a cut-and-paste job and rehash of what he did in 2008,” Williams said. “The president came here and did what he’s continued to do his entire campaign, which is talk about anything but his failed economic record and his disappointing policies that have not created jobs for working Americans.”
Tyler Byrum, a member of OSU College Republicans and a second-year in engineering physics, said Obama focused too much on the past rather than the future, particularly on the economy and the ability for college graduates to get jobs out of school.
“It was hypocritical for Obama to say those things because he himself is a millionaire,” Byrum said. “I just felt like what he addressed about Romney, it was all low-blow partisan bias.”
Barack Obama said this election will be closer than the last and that voters should be prepared for more “nastiness” from the campaigns.
However, he said it’s still possible to make a difference.
“We’re not Democrats or Republicans, but Americans first and foremost,” he said.
Sarah Stemen contributed to this story.