In the battle for Ohio — a contest that Mr. Obama is now winning over the GOP candidate, according to recent polls — the northwest quadrant of the state became ground zero, with both candidates stumping less than 25 miles from each other on the same day.
“My opponent and his running mate are big believers in top-down economics,” the President told thousands inside BGSU’s Stroh Center. “They basically just think if we spend another $5 trillion on tax cuts that favor the very wealthiest ... prosperity and jobs will rain down on everyone else, the deficit will magically go away, and we will live happily ever after.”
Mr. Obama said a decade of top-down economics under former President George W. Bush has proved it does not work.
The President again hammered Mr. Romney for controversial remarks captured on video and distributed online in which the GOP nominee said 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims and expect a handout from government.
“Look, I don’t believe we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims who never take responsibility for their own lives,” Mr. Obama said.
“And I’m going to tell you, as I travel around Ohio and as I look out on this crowd, I don’t see a lot of victims. I see hard-working Ohioans.”
The Democrat peppered in student-friendly promises throughout his remarks, while painting Mr. Romney as bad for their generation. The stump speech repeatedly fired up the more than 5,500 people in the arena — mostly college students.
“Today, millions of students are paying less for college because we took on a system that was wasting billions of dollars by using banks and lenders as middlemen on the student loan process. ... My opponent, he would gut education to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy,” the President said.
The crowd was not exclusively made up of college students, however.
“I think he is a dynamic President,” said Joyce Turner, 66, a Toledo resident. “I think he has the concerns, of not just Democrats, but all the people.”
Ms. Turner said she especially supported Mr. Obama’s moves to wind down fighting in Iraq and implement a health-care policy that allowed children to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26, a policy her daughter benefited from, she said.
The President started his speech with a pitch to get college students out to vote early, a theme several speakers touched on. The deadline to register to vote in Ohio is Oct. 9. In-person early voting begins on Tuesday.
President Obama has traveled to Ohio 29 times since the start of his presidency. Thirteen of those visits have been in 2012.
“In Ohio, the President’s middle-class tax cuts are already having an impact on millions of families,” a statement from the Obama camp sent out before the speech said.
“President Obama has already cut taxes for a typical Ohio family by $3,500 over four years, helping families afford to send their children to college, buy their first home, pay for health care and child care."
Romney spokesman Chris Maloney blasted Mr. Obama even before the speech began.
“The verdict is in on President Obama’s failed economic policies — they’re not working for job creators around the nation,” he said. “For nearly four years, job creators have struggled in the Obama economy. Business leaders have the gloomiest outlook in three years and the President’s failed economic policies of higher taxes and more regulations will only make things worse.
“Mitt Romney understands what it takes to start and grow a business — and, as president, will implement pro-growth policies to create 12 million new jobs and get small-business owners back on their feet.”
BGSU was the first of two college stops for the President on Wednesday. He later spoke at Kent State University before an estimated crowd of 6,600.
There, Mr. Obama again took aim at Mr. Romney’s proposal to reduce taxes by $5 trillion and cut the deficit without raising taxes for the middle class or eliminate the deductions they count on.
“No matter how many times they try to reboot their campaign, no matter how many times they try to tell you they’re going to start talking specifics really soon, they don’t do it, and the reason is because the math doesn’t work,’’ Mr. Obama said.
The President also briefly slipped up, confusing his own proposal to double American exports with his criticism that Mr. Romney outsourced jobs to China and other countries through his tenure at Bain Capital.
“I want to see us export more jobs,’’ Mr. Obama said before correcting himself to laughs from the crowd.
“Export more products. Excuse me,’’ he said. “I was channeling my opponent there for a second.’’
The battle over Ohio will continue next week. Mr. Obama is expected in Columbus on Oct. 4, two days after Ohioans begin to vote, and in Cleveland on the next day. Details on the visits were not immediately available.
At both universities, Mr. Obama sought to energize the youth vote that early polls suggest is not there for him in the same numbers he enjoyed four years ago.
“What enthusiasm gap?’’ asked Bryan Staul, president of College Democrats at Kent State.
Megan Eishen, a 19-year-old musical theater sophomore who hails from Lindsey, Ohio, said college Democrats have been working to register students.
“Kent has a very Democratic side,’’ she said. “It goes all the way back to the 1970s when we were protesting the war. We are very outspoken. There’s a lot of Democratic support here, so for Obama to choose Kent State is a big statement.’’
Michael Cummings, a communications senior from North Canton, Ohio, waited for 90 minutes in line to get tickets for the event, and got in line at 10:45 a.m. when doors wouldn’t open for nearly five more hours.
“As far as campaigning goes, I’m not seeing as much as I saw originally,’’ he said. “The biggest thing was that people got him into the White House. That was the big goal for young people, a young modern president. Since that happened, I think a little enthusiasm maybe was lost, but I think it is growing as the election gets closer.’’
Thousands of people lined up for hours waiting to hear President Obama at BGSU. Attendees at the event who turned onto Wooster Street from I-75 were greeted by a large electronic billboard stating, “Ohio can’t afford four more years of the last four years,” stating 1 out of 2 college graduates are unemployed or underemployed and tuition costs have increased 25 percent since President Obama took office.
BGSU student Bobby Vigars said he likely will vote for Mr. Romney in November, but he came to hear the President speak because he considered it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Mr. Vigars, 19, will be voting for the first time. He said he will support Mr. Romney because of his views on social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage.
However, he said he did like the President’s plans to keep college affordable and tax wealthier Americans, rather than the middle class.
“The people who make more money should pay more in taxes,” he said.
Speaking after Mr. Obama’s remarks, Seth Melchor, the BGSU senior who introduced the President, said he has been a long-time Obama supporter, but Mr. Romney’s comments about 47 percent of Americans paying no income tax and believing they are victims especially highlighted the contrast between the candidates.
“I don’t pay income taxes, because I earn less than $20,000 a year,” Mr. Melchor said, adding he does not consider himself a victim and will pay income taxes when he earns enough money.
“I consider myself hardworking.”
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com 419-724-6171.