CLEVELAND — Making his final stop on a whirlwind two-day, swing-state tour, President Obama fired up a crowd of 12,000 people Thursday night on the tarmac at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport.
With Air Force One parked behind him and a cool breeze blowing off nearby Lake Erie, a hoarse-sounding Mr. Obama implored the crowd to take advantage of Ohio’s early voting option, which began Oct. 2.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama said, he cast his own early vote in Chicago. “I can’t tell you who I voted for, because it’s a secret ballot,” he joked to the crowd. “But Michelle told me she voted for me.”
The Cleveland stop came after a day of heavy campaigning in Florida and Virginia, and the President casting his ballot in Illinois. He is said to be the first sitting President to cast a ballot via early voting. “I’m asking you for your vote and I’m asking you to vote early,” he said.
Americans already are voting in 34 states. Voters in many states can go to the polls or cast “no-excuse” absentee ballots, meaning they don’t have to give a reason to request such a ballot, before Election Day.
Mr. Obama told the crowd he deserved their support over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, because under Mr. Romney’s plan, “folks at the top play by a different set of rules than you do.”
In his remarks, Mr. Obama compared Mr. Romney’s policies to those of former GOP President George W. Bush. “We tried that philosophy in the decade before I took office,” he said.
Mr. Obama also repeated his oft-cited bailout of the U.S. auto industry.
“If Mitt Romney had been president when the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse, we might not have an auto industry today,” he said. Mr. Obama continued, “I wasn’t going to let Detroit go bankrupt, or Toledo go bankrupt, or Lordstown go bankrupt.”
LaDeidra Ballard, a social worker from the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, said she was at the event to support the President. She said she already has supported him at the ballot box by voting early.
“I believe he cares about the people,” she said, standing outside in line several hours before Mr. Obama was scheduled to speak, and sporting a “Change We Can Believe In” T-shirt. “That’s more than I can say about the other person running.”
Robert Henning of Oberlin described himself as an Evangelical Christian and retired pastor who supports Mr. Obama.
“I think he is working to make sure tax policy is fair and make sure everyone pays their fair share.”
From Cleveland, the President planned to return to the White House after 39 straight hours of campaigning, including a red-eye flight from a late-night rally in Las Vegas on Wednesday to an early morning rally in Tampa on Thursday. Along the way, he began to lose his voice.
“You may notice my voice sounds just a little hoarse,” he told supporters in Richmond. “We are right in the middle of our 48-hour, fly-around campaign extravaganza.”
It was a wearying trip aimed to show resilience and a determination to win. And the President’s staff did not seem to mind all that much if the physical strains of his schedule showed, since it suggested he was working overtime for the country’s support.
Mr. Obama seemed eager to appeal to female voters in Tampa. “I don’t think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health-care decisions for women,” he told 8,500 people at Tampa’s Ybor Centennial Park. “Women can make those decisions themselves.”
His remarks were aimed at women who back the 2010 federal health-care law, which Mr. Romney wants to repeal and replace, as well as abortion-rights supporters. Mr. Obama also made the case, as he does most days, that change has been slower than anyone might wish but that it is under way. “Unemployment is falling,” he said at a morning rally in Tampa. “Manufacturing is coming back. Our assembly lines are humming again.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but, Florida, we’ve come too far to turn back now,” he said. “We can’t afford to go back to the same policies that got us into the mess. We’ve got to stick with the policies that are getting us out of the mess."
In Richmond, Va., Mr. Obama said: “I’ve got a plan that will actually create jobs, not just talk about creating jobs; a plan that will actually create middle-class security, not just use the words but not deliver on the promise.”
The President mixed rallies with media interviews targeting voting groups he’s counting on. Those included an appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno and interviews with Hispanic radio hosts Fernando Espuelas and Alex Lucas and African-American radio host Tom Joyner. Mr. Obama called his itinerary of stops “our 48-hour fly-around campaign extravaganza.”
The President also was featured in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine with an interview by historian Douglas Brinkley, a Perrysburg native, that caused a stir over the language Mr. Obama used. In an anecdote about the President’s popularity with children, Mr. Obama responded to a joking question from the magazine’s executive editor about lowering the voting age.
“You know, kids have good instincts,” Mr. Obama said. “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bull ...., I can tell.”
Despite the grueling schedule, aides said Mr. Obama was pumped up by rallies that drew thousands of people even as Mr. Romney has closed the gap in some national polls.
“He knows this is his last campaign, but he’s having a good time out here," said Jen Psaki, a campaign spokesman traveling with him on Air Force One.
Blade news services contributed to this report.
Contact Kate Giammarise at: email@example.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.