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DELAWARE, Ohio — While her husband studied on Monday for debate preparations, First Lady Michelle Obama hit the Ohio campaign trail to rally the faithful and deliver those votes on the spot to the nearby early voting center.
“Get on the bus!” Mrs. Obama shouted to an estimated crowd of 2,000 on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University.
To demonstrate how easy early voting is, Mrs. Obama put her own Illinois absentee ballot in the mail before leaving Washington. The President plans to vote in person in Chicago on Oct. 25.
“It felt so good,” she said “It's on its way to Illinois, my home state, which means we are one vote closer to electing my husband. ... For me, it was Election Day.”
The First Lady’s speech at Ohio Wesleyan in downtown Delaware was just around the corner from Bun’s Restaurant where Republican nominee Mitt Romney had campaigned on Wednesday.
Looking back to the first debate in which Mr. Romney pledged to cut funding for public television, Mrs. Obama said, “We know cutting Sesame Street is no way to balance our budget. Shortchanging our kids is not how we tackle our deficit...
“Yes, we need to cut wasteful spending, but we also need to make investments in our future — in education, in infrastructure...,” she said. “This is what my husband stands for, and that is the country that he's been working to build.”
Part of her speech mirrored what she said at the Democratic National Convention, but she also took on the President’s job of selling his record. And that meant promoting the bailout of the auto industry responsible for one out of eight jobs in Ohio.
“While some folks were willing to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs that would have been lost, Barack had the backs of the American workers,” Ms Obama said.
“He put his faith in the American people. He fought hard to protect jobs for American families. That's why today the auto industry is back.
“Yes, we still have a long way to go to completely rebuild our economy,” she said.
“There are more and more signs every day that we are heading in the right direction. The stock market is up. Exports have grown by 45 percent. Manufacturers have added 500,000 jobs. We've had 31 months of private sector job growth.”
Ohioans have been voting early in person or by mail since Oct. 2, and the Obama campaign has focused on the college-age vote in recent weeks.
Ohio Wesleyan is a left-of-center island in a sea of conservatism in Delaware County, a Columbus bedroom community that is the fastest-growing of Ohio’s 88 counties.
In 2008, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain carried 60 percent of the county’s vote on his way to losing the battleground state as a whole to then Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
By siphoning off as many votes in the Republican stronghold as possible, Mr. Obama hopes to use Ohio and its 18 electoral votes as a firewall against a Romney victory on Nov. 6. No Republican has ever reached the White House without carrying Ohio.
From Delaware, Mrs. Obama headed for more Democratic-friendly territory at Cuyahoga County Community College in Cleveland.
Mrs. Obama urged a charged-up crowd of about 2,000 at the college not to take the election for granted and to hunt up old friends and family members and encourage them to support her husband.
The President will continue the focus on the college-age vote in a post-debate appearance at Ohio University in Athens on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mr. Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, rallied supporters in Cincinnati on Monday.
Mary Ann Lee, 20, a zoology and psychology senior student, hails from Georgia, but is not registered to vote in either state. But she said she hopes to demonstrate her support for the Obama ticket either way and said Mrs. Obama was not wasting her time visiting the campus.
“I think OWU is really known for being liberal,” she said.
“The student population is very open. The professors are also on the more liberal side compared to the student population. We don't have much interaction with the town to know how conservative they are.”
“When it comes to understanding the concerns of women, my husband will always have our back,” Mrs. Obama said.
“He will always fight that we as women can make our own decisions about our bodies.”
She gave the crowd talking points, saying he created millions of jobs, fought for veterans rights, and “took out” terrorist Osama bin Laden.
“I could go on and on and on, but here's what I really want you to know. He knows the American dream because he's lived it. And he's fighting every day so everyone in this country can have that same opportunity,” Mrs. Obama said.
She made a couple of sly references to Mr. Romney, mentioning that “some folks were willing to let the auto industry go under,” a reference to Mr. Romney's 2008 newspaper column arguing against a taxpayer bailout of auto manufacturers struggling in credit crisis that was headlined, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
“It can all come down to what happens in just a few key states, like right here in Ohio,” Mrs. Obama said. "If we win Ohio we'll be well on our way to putting Barack Obama back in the White House for four more years,” she said.
After her appearance, two Ohio police officers on motorcycles suffered non-life-threatening injuries when they collided while escorting Mrs. Obama's motorcade from the campus to the Columbus airport, authorities said.
Politics writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
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