PARMA, Ohio — Blue-collar troubadour Bruce Springsteen and former President Bill Clinton took turns boosting Barack Obama in front of a college and suburban Cleveland crowd in the most voter-rich county of Ohio on Thursday.
Acknowledging the campaign excitement has cooled a little from four years ago, Mr. Springsteen said he still sees Democratic President Obama as the hope of America in advancing progressive goals and reducing income disparity between the rich and poor.
Mr. Springsteen interspersed comments about Mr. Obama with his own songs — “Promised Land,” “Youngstown,” “No Surrender,” “We Take Care of Our Own,” and “Thunder Road” — and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” while playing guitar and harmonica.
The joint celebrity appearance followed by one day the appearance of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in neighboring Berea, Ohio, as the candidates battle for voter support in this battleground state.
Thursday’s rally was in the recreation center of the Parma campus of Cuyahoga Community College in front of 3,000 people in the hall and 700 in an overflow room, according to the Obama campaign.
Mr. Clinton offered statistics to cast the economy in a better light, such as that the banks are better capitalized than they’ve been in 20 years, and that the one-year drop in the jobless rate from 9 percent to 7.8 percent was the steepest in 17 years. Mr. Clinton accused Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney of refusing to disclose the details of his tax cut plan.
“If you ask any questions, he says, ‘Oh, see me about that after the election,’ ” Mr. Clinton said.
He said Republicans were counting on the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeping the jobless rate above 8 percent until after the election. It was reduced to 7.8 percent for September.“When President Obama came into office the country is reeling, everybody needs work. He said, ‘Let’s put America back to work.’ The Senate minority leader said, ‘No, my number one priority is putting you out of work, Mr. President,’ ” Mr. Clinton said.
“They talked about the 8 percent as if it were Scripture — right up there with the tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Then they said the whole thing was rigged.”
He said he doesn’t like the term “bailout” for the 2009 auto industry rescue that saved General Motors and Chrysler, preferring the term “restructuring.”“No banks would finance this, so the government came in and helped,” Mr. Clinton said. “All the other car companies supported this, because they know if General Motors and Chrysler went down, the auto parts suppliers would go down and they would be left in the soup.”
He appealed to the crowd to reward Mr. Obama.
“I love Ohio, it’s an old-school place. When you were down and you were out, [and] your whole economy was threatened, the President had your back. You’ve got to have his back, too,” Mr. Clinton said.
The Romney campaign zeroed in on Mr. Clinton’s observation that the economy is “not fixed.”
“Bill Clinton acknowledged the economy has not been fixed, and he’s right. That is a relevant point as to why we need to change direction, not continue along the same path with policies which hinder economic recovery,” said Christopher Maloney, Ohio spokesman for the Romney campaign.
“No amount of star power can obscure the fact that President Obama has made it more difficult for Ohio families to take care of their own.”
Mr. Springsteen said following Mr. Clinton on stage was “like I’m going on after Elvis here. If he’d have brought the saxophone, you’d have seen a real jam up here.”
He said Mr. Obama was facing “economic chaos” when he started his term but is sticking to an agenda that he said benefited working-class people, ended the war in Iraq, and protected women’s right to have an abortion.
“I'm deeply concerned about the continuing disparity in wealth between our best-off citizens and our everyday citizens. That’s a disparity that I believe our honorable opponents’ policies will only increase and that threatens to divide us into two distinct and foreign nations,” he said.
The 63-year-old New Jersey rocker recalled President Obama’s election night as “an evening when you could feel the locked doors of the past finally being blown open to new possibilities.”
But he said change has been slow in coming.
“The future is rarely a tide rushing in. It’s more often a slow march, inch by inch, day after long day, and I believe we are in the midst of those long days right now,” Mr. Springsteen said.
He linked the auto rescue and the heavy reliance on automobiles in his songs when he said, “I’m thankful GM’s still making cars. What else would I write about? I’d have no job without that.”
This was Mr. Springsteen’s first campaign appearance for President Obama in this election.
He campaigned for then-Senator Obama in Cleveland the weekend before the 2008 election.
Vice President Joe Biden is to campaign in Toledo on Tuesday, while Mr. Ryan is scheduled to appear Saturday in Belmont, Ohio, near Steubenville.
Parma, a suburb of Cleveland, is Ohio’s seventh-largest city, with about 81,000 residents.
Mr. Obama held a campaign rally here in July.
Cuyahoga County accounted for 9 percent of the total Ohio vote in 2008, with Mr. Obama defeating Republican nominee John McCain 68 percent to 30 percent in the county.
Mr. Clinton covered the same topics in a later speech in tiny Wintersville, adjacent to Steubenville, but delivered them in a more folksy manner.
They included this criticism of Mr. Romney’s pledge to cut taxes 20 percent while also lowering the nation’s debt.
“This is real hooter for me,” he told about 1,000 gathered in the Indian Creek High School gym. “... If somebody hired you to fill in a hole, would your strategy be to make it deeper before you started putting dirt back in?”
Jefferson County is Reagan Democrat country, just west of the West Virginia border and 45 minutes from Pittsburgh, and split its vote almost evenly between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain in 2008.
Going over topics from the auto industry bailout to student loan reforms, the former president, working without notes or the bifocals he took out of his coat pocket in Parma, repeatedly tailored his comments to the southeastern Ohio crowd. Tying loan repayments to the income of graduates, Mr. Clinton said, “means if somebody graduates from Ohio State and wants to come home to this county and teach in a rural school where they would earn a lower salary, they can still do it. .. . It means if you want to go out and work as a nurse in a rural health clinic and make less money than you would at the Cleveland Clinic, you can do it.”
He finished by comparing the region and its people — many of them white, noncollege-educated workers — to those he grew up with in Arkansas. Many have been passed over by the American Dream, he said, and many have a shorter life expectancy because of lung cancer, diabetes, and prescription drug addiction.
“Those of us who grew up in the great American middle class and thought it was going to be there for us forever, and then had their dreams dashed, they aren’t sure,” Mr. Clinton said, bringing a hush over the crowd. “These people are really dying young of a broken heart. That’s why we’re having an election . . . I’m telling you, we’re coming out of this. It’s going to get better. You will feel it. And the last thing we need to do is go back to a [Republican] policy that we know will fail.”
Timothy McNulty of the Block News Alliance contributed to this report. The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mr. McNulty is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.