President Obama on Sunday night capped a weekend of campaigning for Democrat candidates with a rousing rally in Columbus, Ohio, seeking to will his party toward staunching what looks to be a drubbing in midterm elections two weeks from Tuesday.
“We need you fired up,” Obama told a crowd estimated by police to be roughly 35,000 on the campus of Ohio State University. “You can defy the conventional wisdom.”
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland dubbed it “the largest gathering of President Obama’s presidency.”
Obama implored his supporters to turn out and vote in the same numbers they did when he was elected president two years ago.
“In two weeks you’ve got the chance to say once again, ‘Yes we can,’” he said, citing his hoarse voice as a result of the campaigning he will continue for the next 16 days.
Obama said the election on Nov. 2 was “a contest between our deepest hopes and our deepest fears.”
“And the other side is playing on fear. That’s what they do.”
Obama, turning again to his attacks on millions of dollars in campaign ads run by independent groups that do not under law have to disclose their donors, referred to special interests as an “empire.”
“The empire is striking back,” he said.
The president did not mention the prospect of foreign money being used by the outside groups, however, but rather used a new tact of casting the anonymous donors as cowardly.
“They don’t have the courage, they don’t have the gumption to stand up and disclose their identity,” Obama said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said that many of their donors do not want to be identified because they are worried about retaliation from allies of the president, and privately political experts say that businesses are concerned that the White House may try to use the levers of power to penalize those who they know are opposing them.
First lady Michelle Obama, in her first campaign appearance with her husband since the 2008 election, introduced the president, referring to herself as “mom-in-chief.”
“This is a serious moment for our country,” she said. “I’m gonna ask you something: can we do this?”
The crowd roared back: “Yes we can!”
Nicholas Tuell, a student, spoke before the first couple, and promised that students will vote just as enthusiastically as they did when Obama was running for president.
“The young people are energized,” Tuell said. “We can prove that 2008 was not a fluke.”
But the crowd’s enthusiasm could not change the fact that the electoral outlook for the president’s party continues to get worse. The weekend brought a steady stream of continuing bad news, from the predictions by handicappers to the Republicans’ growing advantage in money for campaign ads down the stretch.
And the president’s campaign appearances – because his approval rating is so low in many battleground states and districts – have been limited to friendly states or to places where there are pockets of support within purple or red states, where Democrats hope to keep races from slipping away.
In Ohio, for example, Strickland, the Democrat, remains several points behind Rep. John Kasich, the Republican, in a race for governor and former Bush White House budget director Rob Portman is running away from Democrat Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in the race for a U.S. Senate seat.
At a fundraiser earlier Sunday at a Cleveland private residence, the president and first lady made off the cuff remarks about one another that will provide talking heads new material for daytime cable.
“It is my honor and privilege to introduce to you my husband, a very handsome young man, the love of my life, even though he doesn’t always think it, and, more importantly, the President of the United States, Barack Obama,” the first lady quipped.
The president, for his part, said “it’s fun having her along on this road trip.”
“Usually I’m all by myself, listening to my iPod. We had a wonderful conversation on the way here, and she was telling me what I should do,” he said to laughter. “It’s true. It’s true. You think I’m joking. I’m not. I have witnesses.”