CLEVELAND - From thousands of President Obama's famous blue signs to Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Common taking the stage, the President's appearance in front of 8,000 people at Cleveland State University Sunday had all the feel of a presidential election.
Only this is the 2010 midterms, and Mr. Obama was campaigning for the re-election of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made a joint appearance in Cleveland on behalf of Mr. Strickland and Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Lee Fisher Sunday.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Strickland then flew to Toledo for a late-afternoon rally.
Mr. Strickland is locked in a too-close-to-call battle for re-election tomorrow against Republican challenger John Kasich.
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Mr. Obama, who has campaigned across the country to limit Democrats' losses in Congress, chose Cleveland for his final stop in the 2010 midterm election season, no doubt to give Mr. Strickland a final push.
A common theme for both Democrats and Republicans is that a win for Mr. Strickland tomorrow would be critical for Mr. Obama's own chances for re-election in two years.
Many Republicans, including Mr. Kasich, have run against Mr. Obama's health care, federal stimulus, and cap-and-trade initiatives, among others.
"Cleveland, the journey we began together [in 2008] was never about just putting a president in the White House," Mr. Obama said. "It was about building a movement for change that endures."
Mr. Obama referred to his own re-election Sunday only by noting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement that his top priority in the next two years is to defeat the sitting President.
But those who took the stage in Cleveland before Mr. Obama spoke often of Ohio's political importance for 2012.
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Mr. Strickland's running mate, Yvette McGee Brown, said Ohio voters could be a "firewall" for Mr. Obama. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said national politics begin and end in Ohio.
Mr. Fisher, a Democrat and Mr. Strickland's lieutenant governor who trails Republican Rob Portman by double digits to replace U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, said the "weight of the world" was on the shoulders of Cleveland voters.
According to the Strickland campaign and the Ohio Democratic Party, 1,000 people went from Mr. Obama's event to cast their ballots early at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
But Pat McDonald, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections deputy director, said 691 people voted early at the board office Sunday.
The President repeatedly linked his national goals with Ohio.
"We know the jobs and businesses of tomorrow will end up in countries that educate their workers best, that build the best infrastructure, that have the strongest commitment to research and technology. I want that nation to be the United States of America. I want that taking place right here in Ohio, right here in Cleveland," he said.
Mr. Strickland suggested a Kasich victory would stunt - even eradicate - the growth Ohio has made in areas such as alternative energy and education. "We must not, we cannot, we will not turn back," he said.
In Toledo, Mr. Biden capped a long rally in the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall with a 30-minute speech on the achievements of organized labor and the failings of the national Republican Party.
"Republicans are against investing in infrastructure," Mr. Biden said, his tone one of complete disbelief. "They're going to turn back $400 million that was granted to this state for high-speed rail and the thousands of jobs that will go along with it." The reference was to the $400 million U.S. stimulus grant claimed by Mr. Strickland to help begin a passenger rail route between Cincinnati and Cleveland.
The rail plan also came up when U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) urged Mr. Biden to support high-speed passenger rail connecting Sandusky and Toledo to Pittsburgh and Chicago.
"Toledo, you're going to be the solar capital of the world, but if they had their way, you're not going to be in the business," Mr. Biden said. "We reformed and saved the auto industry. And none of them, including John [Kasich], were for it.
"These guys have absolutely no ideas," he said. "John [Kasich] wants to go back to the same agenda that got us in this mess in the first place."
Noting that some of his listeners probably wanted to get home to help with trick-or-treating, Mr. Biden said, "if you don't want horror night to come every single day, you better get your rear end out there to vote. Freddy Krueger is trying to come back."
It was Mr. Biden's sixth trip to Ohio this year, his third to Toledo in two months.
Mr. Voinovich, the former GOP Cleveland mayor and Ohio governor who chose not to seek re-election to the Senate, said in a conference call with reporters that Mr. Obama's repeated visits to Ohio were more about his 2012 re-election bid than "Ohio's future."
"I think his coming to Ohio is wonderful. It reminds people how bad things are and how he's been unresponsive to the needs of our state," he said.
"As far as Ted is concerned, if I were him, I wouldn't have him come to the state."
In Cleveland, Mr. Obama faulted GOP policies for the collapse of major banks and a national recession. He said the Republicans' only economic objective was to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans at a cost of $700 billion.
The Tea Party movement and Republicans contend that Mr. Obama has run up the nation's debt by pushing a progressive agenda.
"We believe in an America that rewards hard work, and responsibility, and individual initiative, and believes in the free market. But we also believe in a country where we look after one another. Where I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper," the President said.
A handful of hecklers seated on the opposite end of the stage began shouting at the President early in his speech, but those shouts were drowned out by thunderous chants of "Yes, we can," the slogan from Mr. Obama's campaign.
Rob Nichols, Mr. Kasich's press secretary, said in Cleveland, "Neither Ted Strickland nor Barack Obama has done a thing to halt the catastrophic loss of jobs in Ohio, and have nothing to offer Ohioans other than blaming others for their own failures.
"At a time when Ohioans desperately need jobs, Obama and Strickland have instead given us massive debt, Obamacare, and a useless 39-mile-an-hour train guaranteed to cost Ohioans $17 million annually," Mr. Nichols said, referring to the $400 million federal grant for passenger rail.
Contact Joe Vardon at
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From thousands of President Obama's famous blue signs to Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist Common taking the stage, the President's appearance in front of 8,000 people at Cleveland State University Sunday had all the feel of a presidential election.