COLUMBUS — President Obama set out on Tuesday to reignite the campaign enthusiasm that had greeted him on previous visits to Ohio State University, and even had buses waiting to shuttle voters to the local Early Voting Center before that excitement could wane.
Speaking on campus before an estimated crowd of 15,000, the Democratic incumbent took on Republican challenger Mitt Romney over foreign policy, tax policy, and proposed budget cuts in a way that some of his strongest supporters wished he had done in Denver last week during the election season’s televised first debate.
He blasted Mr. Romney for saying during the debate that his proposed 20 percent across-the-board tax cut would not worsen the federal deficit.
“If it’s true that it’s not going to add to the deficit, then that leaves only one option, and that’s to ask middle-class families to foot the bill and get rid of the deductions that they rely on for owning a home or raising their kids or sending them to college,” the President said.
“Turns out, most folks don’t like that idea either, so just last week when we were on stage together, Governor Romney decided that instead of changing his plan, he’d just pretend it didn’t exist: ‘What $5 trillion tax cut? I don’t know anything about a $5 trillion tax cut. Pay no attention to that tax cut under the carpet, behind the curtains.’ ”
As his campaign has in a current advertisement, he also mocked Mr. Romney’s comments during the debate that he’d cut federal funding for public television.
“For all you moms and kids out there, don’t worry,” Mr. Obama said. “Somebody’s finally getting tough on Big Bird. Who knew he was driving our deficit? ... Elmo’s making a run for the border. Oscar’s hiding out in a trash can. Governor Romney wants to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on Sesame Street.”
After the President’s speech, buses shuttled students and other members of the crowd to the Franklin County Early Voting Center, where musician will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas was expected to perform, after having opened for Mr. Obama on the Ohio State campus.
The events were aimed in part at taking advantage of the last few hours of Ohio’s so-called Golden Week, the period in which potential voters can register and then immediately cast early ballots.
The youth vote is squarely in the campaign’s crosshairs as Mr. Obama continues his series of college-campus rallies, including Bowling Green State, Kent State, and Cleveland State universities in Ohio in recent days.
The rally on Tuesday marked Mr. Obama’s 15th visit to Ohio this year and his third to the Ohio State campus, not counting unannounced stops during travels elsewhere.
Ohio’s early voting began Oct. 2, and Tuesday was the voter-registration deadline for the Nov. 6 election. Mr. Romney was also in battleground Ohio with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a rally Tuesday in Cuyahoga Falls, and he’ll be in Mount Vernon, Delaware, and Sidney today.
Mr. Obama’s rally followed what has been deemed a lackluster performance against Mr. Romney during the Denver debate, which has given the GOP challenger a bump in the polls.
A CNN/ORC International Poll released Tuesday showed that 51 percent of likely voters support Mr. Obama, compared with 47 percent for Mr. Romney, now within the poll’s margin of error.
But the rally also followed a drop in the nation’s unemployment rate to below the stubborn 8 percent mark to 7.8 percent for the first time since Mr. Obama took office in 2009. He was appearing in a state where the jobless rate is even lower, at 7.2 percent.
“The more I reflect on the debate, the more amazed I am at the differences I heard in that debate,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, said during a conference call with reporters. “For the life of me I can’t figure out what President Obama was doing. He couldn’t figure out how to defend his own record and certainly didn’t offer any vision on what he wants to do.
“I’m seeing a greater intensity among Republicans and a greater willingness to get out and participate than we’re seeing with Democrats,” he said. “Number Two, there’s no doubt that independents are taking a second look.”
Ed Nagle, president and chief executive officer of the Lake Township-based Nagle Companies trucking business, said during the same conference call that his industry cannot afford another four years of Mr. Obama.
“In 2008, we employed 80 truck drivers and this year we now have 40,” Mr. Nagle said. “The policies and nonpolicies led our general economy to continued disaster, and has been really detrimental to our business as well as the trucking industry.”
In addition to concerns over health-care costs, he blamed Mr. Obama for rising fuel prices, which trucking companies can’t fully pass on to shippers, and for union-friendly policies that he said have reduced his industry’s efficiency.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.