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President Obama exhorted, ate and drank, purchased, smiled, posed for pictures, and chatted his way through northern Ohio Thursday in a campaign bus tour aimed at strengthening his connection with middle-class voters.
As part of the "Betting On America Bus Tour," Mr. Obama had all his political skills in play as he hammered his opponent's plans for a tax cut for the wealthy and presented himself as the champion of working people who just expect the same "basic bargain" their parents had.
Supporters of Republican Mitt Romney tried to upstage the President's bus tour throughout the day and counter his message.
But the Obama bus tour, skillfully executed by an army of operatives, aided by Secret Service agents and local and state police and sheriff's departments, will be a high bar to match for Mr. Romney, who is also competing to carry Ohio, considered by many to be the most important battleground state in the country because of its history of picking the winner since 1964.
'The basic bargain'
"Some of you joined me in 2008 because we believed in that basic bargain that built the largest middle class in history and the strongest economy in the world," Mr. Obama said to a crowd of several hundred sitting on the lawn of the Wolcott House Museum complex in Maumee.
"And we felt like that basic bargain was slipping away, that hard work wasn't always rewarded, that being responsible didn't always get you ahead, that folks who acted irresponsibly sometimes were making out like bandits while ordinary folks were having a tougher and tougher time," Mr. Obama said.
Championing what he what he described to a Sandusky crowd as the "big, diverse, hopeful, optimistic, hard-working, patriotic middle class," Mr. Obama said Mr. Romney would represent the other side of the "stalemate" in Washington, the side that wants tax cuts for the wealthy and to cut services and programs to pay for them.
In Maumee, Mr. Obama alluded to the international trade case his administration filed Thursday against China, reported first in The Blade.
And he became reacquainted with someone in Hawaii who knew him in high school.
Mr. Obama made stops in Oak Harbor, Catawba Island Township, Sandusky, and Amherst, Ohio, and ended his day in Parma, a Cleveland suburb.
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- Maumee site prepared for Obama to kick off bus tour
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His day in northern Ohio started at 11 a.m., when he bounded off Air Force One at Toledo Express Airport, dressed in a gray-checked shirt and khaki pants. He was cheered or just observed by groups of people taking pictures and waving. Along every route he took, including Reynolds Road, State Rt. 163, and State Rt. 2, observers stood along the road to watch the long motorcade sweep by.
Romney supporters waved signs as the President's bus turned from Conant Street in Maumee to the Anthony Wayne Trail.
At the Wolcott House, the 1827 estate of pioneer businessman James Wolcott, the President highlighted the 2009 auto rescue as an example of his commitment to the middle class, an episode on which he and Mr. Romney differed in 2008, when Mr. Romney urged the government to let Chrysler and General Motors face the realities of the economic marketplace.
"Governor Romney's experience has been in opening companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing. Pioneers of outsource. My experience has been in saving the American auto industry," Mr. Obama said.
Obama touts Jeep
He referred to the Jeep plant in Toledo that is making the "car the world wants, Wrangler."
"It just set an all-time sales record. What happened in Toledo can happen in cities like Cleveland, it can happen in Pittsburgh, it can happen in other industries. That's why I'm running for another term as President because I want to make sure that it does," Mr. Obama said.
The President spoke in front of the Wolcott House's red barn, a huge American flag on the roof and bales of straw flanking the podium.
Mr. Obama heralded his health-care law, recenly upheld by the Supreme Court, and said he would work with everyone who wants to make it better, but sent a message to Republicans planning to repeal a plan they regard as an infringement on individual liberty. "The law I passed is here to stay. It is going to make the vast majority of Americans more secure," he said.
In Ziggy's Pub in Amherst, he sipped some beer -- first, some Miller Lite from a glass, then some from a Bud Light bottle -- while keeping up the small talk and flashing a broad smile. At one table, the President fell into a deep discussion of education policy with four current or retired Lorain City Schools administrators.
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Keri Celik, 48, one of the Ziggy's patrons, said she's supporting Mr. Obama.
"I think we're probably kind of half and half," she said of Amherst. "I hear a lot of 'Yes, Obama,' and 'No, Obama,' but I'm a 'Yes, Obama,' " Ms. Celik said, appreciative of the health-care plan that allows her daughter to stay on her insurance plan.
On the steps of a gazebo in Washington Square, without notes or teleprompters, the President's comments took on a more personal cast:
"In you, I see my own life and everything my parents and grandparents struggled for," he said. "I have had opportunities. I want to now give something back. A lot of successful people out there want to give something back.
"I don't want to ask middle-class families to pay higher taxes to pay for a tax cut for me and Mr. Romney."
'He made my day'
Judy Keefe, who brought her family from Shaker Heights, Ohio, to celebrate her birthday, said, "He made my day. This is one of the best birthdays I have had in my life."
Ohio Democratic Party officials said it was the first visit by a sitting President to Sandusky since Harry S Truman in 1948. The Sandusky Register newspaper has been running a campaign called "Chasing the President" since January to induce the two presidential candidates to campaign in Sandusky.
When he started his speech at James Day Park in Parma about 8 p.m., he said, "I had a beer in Amherst at Ziggy's, so I'm feeling good." Near the stage in Parma was U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), whose district now includes Parma as well as Toledo.
Among the throngs of people on the Wolcott House grounds -- baking in the sun -- waiting to see the President was Lynn Cooper of Perryburg Township, who knew Mr. Obama during his high school days in Hawaii.
"... I was in the eighth grade and he was in 12th grade and my sister was in high school," Mrs. Cooper said. "The funny thing is I just remember that in high school, even back then, he had a presence. ... I wish I still had my sister's yearbook to go through."
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She was brought to Ohio for school at Miami University and her husband, Christopher Cooper, is chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio hospital.
She didn't get to speak with him after the speech because of the mob of people who rushed forward. "I liked the fact that he was really upbeat about things like heath care and the auto industry," she said.
Former Ohio Gov.Ted Strickland was one of several speakers who warmed up the already-friendly crowd before the President made his appearance.
Holding up Thursday's edition of The Blade, Mr. Strickland referred to the front-page headline on China.
"When you talk to the independents or the undecided Republicans, and they try to say, 'Well we don't know if we are going to vote because we don't know if there's any differences between these two candidates,' you hold up The Toledo Blade and you say, 'It is our President, Barack Obama, who is standing up to China, it is our President who has kept us safe and has brought this Iraq war to an end and is going to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.' "
China and trade
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, waiting for the President, said he was pleased Mr. Obama would announce Wednesday that the United States will file a case with the World Trade Organization in Geneva accusing China of putting illegal duties on $3.3 billion worth of U.S.-made auto imports.
During his remarks later to the crowd, the senator warned against sending a Republican to the White House.
"Are we going to go back to Republican policies that got us into this mess or are we going to go forward with policies that rebuild the middle class?" he asked, drawing cheers.
Miss Kaptur, when she took her turn at the microphone, hammered Republicans for not supporting the auto industry rescue. She said "all but a handful" of the Republicans in Congress voted against it.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who was reached by phone, expressed support for Mr. Obama's decision to take China before the World Trade Organization.
"I'm supportive of anything that makes the trade deficit more fair and viable to anybody involved in that process," Mayor Bell said.
However, he stressed that Toledo's efforts to court Chinese businessmen remains important for the city's future and should not be conflated with the trade issue.
"This is two different situations," he said. "One is dealing with the trade back and forth, the other is us creating economic development inside the city of Toledo and northwest Ohio."
Eleanor Dombrowskiof West Toledo said the President's speech at the Wolcott House was exactly what Ohioans needed at this point in the campaign. "I loved it," Ms. Dombrowski said. "He said exactly what I wanted to hear and I came here to stand up because I feel like I am one of the silent majority and that I let Obama down by not doing more in the last four years and I am appalled by the negative attack ads and I am here to say we as Americans are better than that."
Today, President Obama will travel to Boardman, Ohio, south of Youngstown, where he'll tour Summer Garden Food Manufacturing, a food manufacturing facility that's expanding and creating jobs. Then he will speak at nearby Dobbins Elementary School in Poland, Ohio.
In the afternoon, the bus tour will end at the Center for the Arts lawn on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Staff writers Ignazio Messina, Claudia Boyd-Barrett, and Liyan Chen contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.