President Obama, in a Labor Day stop-off in Toledo on his way to the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte, shared energy with a raucously appreciative crowd at Scott High School, where he told listeners that Republican nominee Mitt Romney's "economic playbook" means higher taxes on the middle class.
The President — who divulged at a West Toledo diner before the speech that his first car was a Jeep — praised the labor movement as the source of middle-class job security and picked up on the sports metaphor used by Mr. Romney Saturday in Cincinnati where he said, "It's time to get a new coach."
"I have one piece of advice for the Romney-Ryan game plan for you, Ohio — punt it away ... you don't need that coach. That's a losing season," President Obama told the approximately 3,100 people inside Scott High School.
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According to Mr. Obama, on Mr. Romney's "first down" he "hikes taxes" by nearly $2,000 on the average family with children "to pay for a massive tax cut for multimillionaires."
"Sounds like unnecessary roughness to me," he joked.
The President arrived Sunday evening at Toledo Express Airport and stayed the night at the Toledo Hilton hotel on Glendale Avenue.
People gathered in clumps or they stood by themselves along the route the Obama motorcade took from the Hilton, along Glendale Avenue, the Anthony Wayne Trail, and then Bancroft Street to his first public event Monday — an unannounced stop at Rick's City Diner in West Toledo. There he sat down with selected local auto workers Heather Finfrock, Dan Schlieman, and James Fayson, all three members of the United Auto Workers union.
The President was originally to campaign the afternoon in Cleveland but last week changed his plans and headed for Louisiana when he left the airport about 3 p.m.
It was his second trip to the Toledo area this year and the 27th to Ohio since becoming President. Mr. Obama visited Toledo in 2011 to highlight the recovery of the auto industry.
Mr. Obama said that without the $80 billion rescue of General Motors and Chrysler, there would have been 1 million lost jobs and another Great Depression.
"And all of you — the men and women who built these companies with your own hands — you would have been benched for good," he said.
The Republican National Convention gave Americans nothing new, he said.
"We saw three straight days of an agenda out of the last century," President Obama said. "You might as well have watched it on black and white TV, with some rabbit ears on there. It should have been on Nick at Nite."
Mr. Obama said that "there was one person at Governor Romney's convention last week who wasn't entirely on script."
Some thought he was going to talk about actor Clint Eastwood, whose unscripted appearance on the stage at Tampa generated a flood of comment.
But he said Ohio Gov. John Kasich talked about how great Ohio was performing when the rest of the speakers were saying how bad the situation was in the United States.
He said Mr. Kasich in his speech bragged about his having the highest job-creation record in Ohio and fourth in the nation but did not credit the 2009 auto industry bailout.
"I guess the theory was that it's all the governor's doing. But I think we need to refresh his memory — because a lot of those jobs are autoworker jobs like yours. The American auto industry supports one in eight jobs in this state," Mr. Obama said, reminding the crowd that former Massachusetts Governor Romney's prescription for the predicament of the auto industry in 2008 was to "let Detroit go bankrupt."
"It's a little funny watching Governor Romney, Governor Kasich, trying to rewrite history now that you're back on your feet," he said.
"Now they're saying it was their idea all along, or they're saying that you, the workers, made out like bandits," Mr. Obama said, telling the crowd that his opponents believe the bailout was a payback to his politically supportive autoworker unions.
"Even by the standards of political campaigns, that's a lot of you-know-what," Mr. Obama said.
A spokesman for Governor Kasich said Ohio has 16,000 fewer auto-related jobs than it did in December, 2008.
"If it's the President's national policies which are responsible for Ohio's resurging economy, why is Ohio doing so much better than nearly every other state?" said spokesman Rob Nichols. He said Ohio has gained 122,500 jobs since Governor Kasich took office.
According to the Obama campaign, the auto industry rescue saved nearly 155,000 jobs.
He praised the union movement as providing Americans with access to the middle class.
He said the auto industry and its product are "a source of manufacturing might. If that's not worth fighting for, then what is?
"We weren't going to give up on your jobs and your families and your communities. We weren't going to let Detroit go bankrupt. We weren't going to let Lordstown go bankrupt. We weren't going to let Toledo go bankrupt," the President said. "I bet on you, and three years later that bet has paid off for America."
The President urged listeners to register and then to vote early, starting Oct. 2.
"If we win Toledo, we will win Ohio, and if we win Ohio, we'll win this election. And if we win this election, we will finish what we started, and we will remind the world why the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth," he said.
The President was introduced by Toledoan Kenyetta Jones, a 27-year employee of General Motors Powertrain.
Ms. Jones, 48, had the crowd on her side quickly and told about her worries after being laid off three and half years ago for 13 months. She said she had confidence that President Obama would help her get her job back.
"Times were really tough. We rallied around one another. A job is more than a paycheck. It's about our dignity and independence," Ms. Jones said. "Because he bet on the American worker and rescued the auto industry, I got my job back."
The President thanked her for an "outstanding introduction."
"I was listening backstage, and I thought I heard a little preaching going on," he said, before launching into his prepared remarks. "Kenyetta can talk, no doubt about it."
Ms. Jones, mother of two college-age daughters, is a benefits representative and quality inspector.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) helped warm up the crowd and thanked the President for visiting Toledo on Labor Day.
"Thank you, Mr. President for coming to the heart of labor in the United States of America," Miss Kaptur said. "In 1990, Rosa Parks spoke in this room, and in 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke here too."
Rally attendee Robin Reyes of Bluffton, Ohio, said the President's policies have benefited automotive companies.
"There are a lot of auto parts companies around [Findlay] that are doing better today because of him," Ms. Reyes said. "He has helped the economy. It takes a long time and people have to be patient, but it was the Republicans and [George W.] Bush's policies who got us into this mess."
Jessie Mitchell of West Toledo was thrilled President Obama selected Toledo for his Labor Day campaign stop.
"I was very impressed with him today," Mr. Mitchell said. "I can't wait to hear the details of his plan at the convention in Charlotte."
Treva Jeffries, principal of Scott, was among those who greeted the President when he arrived at the historic school.
"A lot of people who were laid off are going back to work now in the auto industry," Ms. Jeffries said.
Val Szegedi, who makes steering columns at Chrysler's Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg Township, said many auto workers owe their jobs to President Obama.
"We would be in so much more terrible shape if he had not done what he did," Ms. Szegedi said.
Frank Szollosi, a former Toledo councilman, said the President's remarks were inspiring.
"Ohio's unemployment is a point or a point and a half below the national average, so his policies are paying off," Mr. Szollosi said.
Claims by Mr. Romney that Mr. Obama cannot stand up to union leaders and that he, Mr. Romney, would support teachers, not teachers' unions, was malarkey, said Francine Lawrence, former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers union, who was among the Obama supporters at Scott.
"It is a typical tactic of the campaign to split unions away from working people," she said.
UAW President Bob King thanked the crowd for last year's repeal of Senate Bill 5, which would have stripped public employee unions of some bargaining rights.
"When we do better, everybody does better," Mr. King said of union contracts.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Mitt Romney and Republicans are out of touch with the needs of working people.
"Just tell the truth about Mitt Romney, and we will be alright. It is a time we took a stance against intolerance and for American values."
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.