People watch a video of President Barack Obama during a campaign rally at The Ohio State University, Saturday, May 5, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio . (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

Obama’s kick-off rallies downplay record, slam GOP

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s two 2012 campaign kick-off rallies were a defensive and critical echo of his rapturous 2008 “Hope and Change” campaign, and they occurred in university stadiums that lacked the Romanesque setting used at his triumphant election-night rally.

“We have to move forward to the future we imagined in 2008, where every one gets a fair shot, where everyone does their fair share and everyone pays by the same rules,” he told his supporters in Ohio.

“We can’t afford to spend the next four years going back,” Obama said May 5, standing under a banner marking his campaign’s current slogan, “Forward.”

The attendees did not fill the two university stadiums and were notably enthusiastic. Media coverage was similarly muted, with his rallies overshadowed on online pages of The New York Times and the Washington Post by articles about Brazilian tribes, ice-hockey scores, and new graduates accepting unpaid internships instead of jobs.

Obama repeatedly tried to portray the 2012 campaign as a choice about the next four years, rather than a national referendum on his unpopular record.

Republicans “will be spending more money than we’ve ever seen before on negative ads, on TV, on radio, in the mail, on the Internet,” he declared. “Ads that exploit people’s frustrations for my opponent’s political gain … [that] ask if you’re better off than you were before the worst crisis in our lifetime,” he said.

“We’ve seen that play before. But you know what? The real question, the question that will actually make a difference in your life, and the lives of your children, it’s not just about how we’re doing today, but how we’ll be doing tomorrow.”

The emphasis on “choice” and moving “forward” allowed Obama to downplay voters’ assessment of his record, which includes negative poll ratings, a stalled economy, flat incomes, a record unofficial unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, and $5 trillion in extra debt.

Obama compared his self-declared support for Americans with a portrayal of GOP nominee Gov. Mitt Romney as a backward-looking corporate manager unable to connect with average Americans.

“They want even bigger tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans … even deeper cuts to education, and Medicare and research and technology … they want to give banks and insurance companies ever more power to to do as they please,” he told his volunteers.

The events were partly intended to galvanize Obama’s extensive campaign machine.

“You guys will be the backbone of this campaign,” he told the volunteers at the Ohio event. “I want the rest of you to join a team … because we are going to win this thing by the old-fashioned way, door-by-door, block-by-block, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

In Virginia, organizers led the crowd through the process of calling a friend to urge support for Obama.

However, Obama’s campaign failed to fill the 18,300-seat Ohio stadium or the 7,500 Virginia stadium, although additional thousands of people were on the stadium floors.

Both stadiums were located at universities favorable to Obama, and the campaign had officials used their e-mail lists to encourage supporters to attend the weekend events. The crowds included many campaign volunteers.

Obama’s appearances were preceded by speakers that that called for more volunteers, touted the Obamacare healthcare law, criticized voter-identification laws, and urged people to register.

The Virginia event was tailored for Virginia’s white swing voters, and showcased appearances by a folk band, Boy Scouts who recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and three African-Americans who led the audience in a brief rendition of the national anthem. Both events featured a new song from his culture-industry supporter, Bruce Springsteen. The song includes the chorus, “we take care of our own, wherever the flag is flown.”

However, the events and videos highlighted the role played by African-American volunteers in Obama’s campaign.

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