ATHENS, Ohio — President Obama wasted little time heading for two battleground states on Wednesday in hopes of taking advantage of any momentum he may have generated in Tuesday’s debate.
Before an estimated crowd of 14,000 on the grounds of Ohio University, the Democratic incumbent set out to take advantage of what he perceived as weaknesses in Republican Mitt Romney’s debate performance on such issues as 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,” he said. “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.”
From Iowa, Mr. Obama flew into Athens County, extremely friendly territory for Mr. Obama in the heart of rural southeast Ohio where the President hopes 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 all of the adjacent counties, in some cases by large margins.
Mr. Romney has scored points in the region, in part, by criticizing the President’s energy and anti-pollution policies, claiming they are endangering southeast Ohio's coal-mining industry.
In his 30-minute speech, 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. Does anybody really look at that guy and say he is really into coal? ... You got to be on the level if you want to be President of the United States.”
He again criticized Mr. Romney for not providing enough details on how he would finance his plan to cut income tax rates by 20 percent across the board, in part through eliminating deductions and exemptions.
“He said, ‘It’s not going to raise the deficit. I’m going to lower taxes on middle-class folks. We’re not in any way give a tax break to the wealthy folks,’ even though he said during the Republican primary that he’s going to cut taxes for the top 1 percent. ...,” Mr. Obama said. “How are you going to pay for it? Couldn’t tell you. Said he was going to pay for it by cutting Planned Parenthood and Big Bird. That’s what he said.
“And then when you keep on pressing him, he says, ‘I said I was going to do it. I was a businessman, so you should just take my word for it,’ ” Mr. Obama said. “Here’s a tip. When a politician tells you he’s going to tell you what he’s going to do after the election, but he can’t tell you now, it’s not because the plan’s so good that he doesn’t want to let you in on it. It’s not because he wants to give you this great surprise later on.”
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 “women’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.
A Republican who grew up hating Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Caryl Gustavson, 92, of Athens, became a Democrat during the Vietnam War, voting for George McGovern in 1972.
She said Mr. Romney did a good job in the debate, but Mr. Obama appeared “very presidential and sure of himself.”
“When he said he was offended by Romney, I thought he looked great,'' she said. “He said, ‘I’m commander-in-chief.’ I think the President of the United States deserves real respect. And what troubles me is that they don’t emphasize that Republicans won’t cooperate. ... After all, Mitch McConnell said it was his duty when he was elected to see that Obama failed, so how can he accomplish anything? That's so unAmerican.”
Her daughter is Martha Marks, of Boston, whose visit with her mother coincided with Mr. Obama’s visit. A Democrat, she was in Massachusetts when Mr. Romney was governor.
“What I don’t understand is why Obama doesn’t say that Massachusetts was 47th in the nation in job creation when Romney was governor,” she said. “He doesn’t create jobs. Romney’s a chameleon. We were a steppingstone to run for president. He will say anything he has to say. He will do whatever he needs to do to become president.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com, or 614-221-0496.