ATHENS, Ohio -- President Barack Obama wasted little time heading for two battleground states today in hopes of taking advantage of any momentum he hopes he generated in Tuesday's debate.
Before an estimated crowd of 14,000 on the grounds of Ohio University, Mr. Obama set out to take advantage of what he perceived as weaknesses in Republican Mitt Romney's debate performance on women's rights, tax cuts, and foreign policy.
Talking about opportunities for a college education, he mocked Mr. Romney's statement during the debate that he ordered “binders” of potential female candidates to fill posts in his administration when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“We want our sons, but we also want our daughters,'' Mr. Obama said. “I don't know if you were listening last night, but, see, we don't have to order up some binders to find qualified, talented women—young women...And when the young women graduate, we should make a very simple concept the rule—equal pay for equal work...I've got two daughters. I don't want them paid less than a man for doing the same job. And by the way, men out there, you don't want your wife paid less than a man for the same job. So this isn't just a women's issue This is a family issue.'
Athens County is extremely friendly territory for Mr. Obama in the heart of rural southeast Ohio where the President needs to blunt expected rural support for Mr. Romney. Mr. Obama captured 68 percent of the Athens County vote in 2008, but Republican John McCain carried nearly every all of the adjacent counties, in some cases by large margins.
Mr. Romney has scored points in the region by criticizing the President's energy policies of short-changing coal mined nearby and by endangering jobs with his anti-pollution policies.
Mr. Obama specifically played up inclusion of cleaner-coal technology in his mix of policies designed to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
“By the way, by doing this we can also reduce the problem of carbon pollution and still invest in clean coal,'” he said. “Last night I was listening to Mitt Romney talk a lot about being a champion of coal. He stood (as governor) in front of a coal-fired plant and said this plant kills people.
“Now he's running around talking like he's Mr. Coal,” Mr. Obama said. “Come on. Come on. You know that's not on the level...You got to be on the level if you want to be President of the United States.”
The trip marked Mr. Obama’s 16th visit to Ohio in 2012 and his third so far in October, but this marked his first stop of the campaign to Ohio’s rural southeast.
“It's kind of the opposite end of the spectrum,'' said Frances Weiner, an Ohio University psychology senior who hails from West Virginia but is registered to vote in Ohio.
“You have the university and the more progressive, more liberal types, and then you have 10 miles outside of town on all ends, really rural areas,'' she said. “I think it's important that he came for that population as well.''
To counter the criticism that has followed Mr. Romney's “binder'' statement, Mr. Romney's former lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, noted that 10 of the top 20 positions in the governor's administration were filled with women.
“Governor Romney wasn't just checking a box,'' she wrote in a fund-raising email. “He sought out our counsel, and he listened to our advice. We didn't always agree, but we were always respected. Mitt Romney didn't judge the people who were in his administration by their gender. He wanted the best, male or female.
“There's no greater evidence that Mitt Romney will represent all Americans than his record of treating all people fairly and impartially,'' she wrote “His was a brand of leadership that got things done by bringing people together, not dividing them.”
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