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CINCINNATI — Stevie Wonder summed up President Obama’s key message Sunday night by adding two lines to the beginning of his hit song “Superstition:” “We’re on the right track. We can’t turn back.”
Mr. Obama sought to seal the deal in a key city in a key battleground state, urging an estimated 13,500 in the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena to move “forward” with him and not to fall for the “real change” that opponent Mitt Romney claims to offer.
He reacted to his Republican opponent’s claim on the campaign trail that Mr. Obama has burned too many bridges to work with Congress while tough decisions lie ahead.
“If the price of peace in Washington is cutting deals that kick students off of financial aid, or getting rid of funding for Planned Parenthood, or letting insurance companies discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, or eliminating health care for millions of Medicaid [recipients] who are poor, or elderly, or disabled, then that’s a price I'm not willing to pay,” Mr. Obama said.
“That's not bipartisanship,” he said. “That’s not change. That’s surrender to the same status quo that has hurt too many families for too long. I’m not ready to give up on that fight. ... I hope you aren't either, Ohio.”
Four years ago, Mr. Obama was on the same campus on the Sunday night before the election to close out his Ohio campaign. This year he will end his Ohio campaign today at Nationwide Arena in Columbus with singer Bruce Springsteen.
Arguing that Mr. Romney's “real change” is a repackaging of failed policies from the George W. Bush era, Mr. Obama said Mr. Romney, then a Senate candidate from Massachusetts, criticized as job-killing the policies of Democratic President Bill Clinton, who raised taxes on the wealthy.
“Turns out his math was just as bad back then as it is now, because by the end of President Clinton’s second term, America had created 22 million new jobs, incomes were up, poverty was down, and our deficit became the biggest surplus in history ... ” he said.
“Now, the other guy’s ideas were put to the test also, because after President Clinton we had eight years in which we tried giving big tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, we tried giving insurance companies, and oil companies, and Wall Street a free ride to do whatever they pleased,” Mr. Obama said. “And all we got was falling incomes, and record deficits, and the slowest job growth in 50 years, and an economic crisis that we're still working our way out of.”
Both campaigns are vying heavily for Hamilton County, a swing county that went for Mr. Obama four years ago by roughly 30,000 out of about 430,000 votes cast.
President Bush won the county by roughly 23,000 votes in 2004, and Mr. Romney is counting on duplicating Mr. Bush’s performance in order to carry battleground Ohio in 2012.
Much of the rest of the southwestern corner of the state is expected to be firmly in Mr. Romney’s camp. On Friday night, the former Massachusetts governor led a rally that his campaign estimated at 30,000, a record for his campaign, in extremely friendly GOP territory in West Chester about 30 miles to the north.
Mr. Romney rallied in Cleveland Sunday, another example of the importance of Ohio's 18 electoral votes, while both running mates, Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, also campaigned in the state.
Such last-minute campaigning is lost on the roughly 20 percent of the state’s nearly 8 million registered voters who’ve already cast their ballots.
Secretary of State Jon Husted reported that, as of Friday, more than 1.6 million Ohioans had cast their ballots in person or by mail, and that was before final weekend early voting. In the last presidential election, that was the busiest early voting period.
Most polls show the race to be tight but trending toward the Democratic president.
Jon Angerer, a University of Cincinnati accounting junior, was in the Obama crowd with his girlfriend, Ginny Shafer, a junior in education, even though both support Mr. Romney. Ms. Shafer has already voted, and Mr. Angerer plans to do so on Tuesday.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Mr. Angerer said. “There's fiscal data behind Barack Obama’s previous four years as president. There needs to be a change, because otherwise we're going to inherit a massive amount of debt.”
Janet Douglas, 54, a bank loan-closing specialist, is firmly in the President’s corner. “I think he represents my interests as a middle-class individual,” she said. “He’s going to look out for us because oftentimes we're overlooked in terms of health care, assistance, Social Security, and things of that matter ... [Mr. Romney] has totally different positions on everything ... from his prior positions.”
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