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Published: Monday, 10/18/2010

President rallies 35,000 at Ohio State


COLUMBUS - President Obama rallied a crowd of about 35,000 Sunday night on the campus of Ohio State University in hopes that "Yes, we can!" will be as loud a rallying cry for other Democrats as it was for him two years ago.

"The biggest mistake we can make, Ohio, is to go back to the very same policies that caused all this hurt in the first place," he told the crowd in the chilly autumn air under the moon. "The other side is counting on all of you having amnesia."

Mr. Obama is not on the ballot, but Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Senate candidate Lee Fisher are, and they were counting on the enthusiasm demonstrated last night to spread well beyond the lawn of the Ohio State Oval.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama survey the crowd of 35,000 at a rally for Democrats at Ohio State University. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama survey the crowd of 35,000 at a rally for Democrats at Ohio State University.

The crowd of 35,000, as estimated by university police, was the largest yet in the series of rallies the President has headlined recently around the country in a bid to hold onto governors' mansions across the nation and curb the gains Republicans expect to make at the congressional level.

First Lady Michele Obama joined her husband on the campaign trail Sunday, the first time she has done so since two days before the 2008 election.

Mr. Obama characterized this election as being about to whom America wants to hand the keys to the economy after Republicans drove it into ditch and waited while Democrats pushed it out.

"You can't have the keys back. You don't know how to drive,'' Mr. Obama shouted to cheers. "If you want, you can roll with us, but you gotta be in the backseat … We don't want to go backward. We're moving America forward.''

In a 27-minute speech, he urged the crowd to befuddle pollsters and rise above frustrations that the economic recovery he promised two years ago hasn't happened yet.

In his speech, President Obama told the crowd to stun polsters and rise above frustrations that the economic recovery hasn't fully been realized. In his speech, President Obama told the crowd to stun polsters and rise above frustrations that the economic recovery hasn't fully been realized.

"It's not easy,'' he said. "Believe me, I know it's not easy … I know it gets discouraging sometimes, but don't let anybody tell you this fight isn't worth it. Don't let anybody tell you you cannot make a difference."

Mr. Kasich and his running mate, Auditor Mary Taylor, countered the live rally with a business roundtable Web-conference, tying Mr. Strickland to the policies of Mr. Obama and using it as a fund-raising tool.

The Republican's campaign will bring him to northwest Ohio today for stops in Seneca, Hancock, Putnam, and Williams counties.

Ohioans have been voting by absentee ballot since Sept. 28, but this midterm election is expected to draw fewer than half of those registered to vote.

An Ohio Poll released Friday by the University of Cincinnati showed that Mr. Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich do equally well among their own parties and that Mr. Strickland even leads by 1 point among Independents.

But with more Republicans saying they're more likely to vote than Democrats, this election comes down to whether Democrats can bridge the enthusiasm gap.

"Obama is the mobilizer," said Paul Beck, Ohio State political science professor. "The people who voted for him in 2008 were not the regular voters. Strickland and Fisher are not going to be the mobilizers. It's going to have to be the President, if anybody can. He has to be the one to reach the voters who are not used to voting.

"It's the campuses where you draw the really big crowds," he said. "They voted 2-to-1 for him in Ohio … Is it enough to get the voters who attend? No. But there could be a ripple effect to reach those that the polls have not. It's hard to gauge who's going to vote and who's not. It's guesswork."

Carl Crow, an 18-year-old student at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, said he is registered and will "definitely" vote in his first general election on Nov. 2.

Although he will vote for Mr. Strickland and Mr. Fisher, he admitted that it took Mr. Obama to get him to make the roughly 120-mile roundtrip to the Columbus rally with a number of his fellow students.

"I think that's the only way that people can get excited right now," he said. "A lot of people are disillusioned. We've been languishing for eight years, and people sort of expected Obama to fix it right away. He's done a great job, but obviously we still have problems."

Bob Brown, 48, of Gambier, a loyal Democrat, said he hopes the picture of an apathetic Democratic electorate isn't an accurate one.

"Democrats are getting a lot of bad press, because it's in style," he said. "You don't see the national media, let alone the local media, talking about the progress Democratic administrations have made, only their tribulations and trials.

"I think Ted Strickland has done a great job of stopping the bleeding of job loss in Ohio," Mr. Brown said.

"He's been instrumental in Ohio in bringing clean fuel jobs. The solar farm in southeast Ohio is incredible when you consider all of the places in America it could have been located."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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