Reporting from Columbus, Ohio — Hoping to rekindle the enthusiasm of young voters, President Obama told 35,000 people who turned out for a campus rally that they shouldn't be disillusioned by the sour economy or slow pace of change in Washington and that Republicans were offering no better solutions.
The president and First Lady Michelle Obama appeared at an outdoor rally at Ohio State University on Sunday night as part of a coordinated Democratic effort to mobilize young voters for the midterm election Nov. 2.
The first couple got a raucous welcome, with the crowd repeatedly punctuating their remarks with shouts of "Yes we can!" and "We love you!"
Mindful that some of his early supporters are feeling deflated, Obama offered a frank admission that job losses and home foreclosures had made it tough for Democrats to retain the buoyant sense of optimism touched off by his election nearly two years ago.
But he said that apathy was no answer. Republicans, he said, are "counting on you to forget who caused the mess in the first place. And now they … want you to believe the election is a referendum on the economy, a referendum on me."
Invoking former President George W. Bush, Obama said: "It's not like we didn't try what they're peddling. We tried it for eight years. It didn't work. … Ohio, it's up to you to tell them we do not want what they're selling. We've been there before and we are not going back."
Earlier in the day, the Obamas spoke at an afternoon fundraising event for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who is in a tough race against former Republican congressman John Kasich.
"I know there are times when probably it's hard to recapture that sense of possibility," the president said at the reception. "It's hard sometimes to say, 'Yes we can.' You sit thinking, 'You know, maybe. I don't know.' It's not as inspiring a slogan."
He swiped repeatedly at Republicans, invoking Abraham Lincoln at one point and positing that the 16th president would have trouble winning the Republican nomination if he were a candidate today.
"You know that's true," he said, as the audience laughed.
Obama is blanketing the country in the run-up to the midterm election, trying to energize core Democratic voters and remind them that his agenda hinges on the party retaining control of Congress. He is hoping to get a lift from his wife.
Not since the 2008 campaign have the Obamas campaigned side by side. Michelle Obama introduced her husband to the 350 people gathered under a tent outside the home of Carole and David Carr, owner of Brennan Industries. Tickets ranged from $750 to $5,000, the Strickland campaign said.
Relishing the dual appearance, the first lady described her husband as "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."
When it was his turn to speak, Obama rushed to correct her.
"It's not true that more importantly I am the president of the United States," he said. "More importantly, I am Michelle Obama's husband and Malia and Sasha's father."
He added: "So it's fun having her along on this road trip. You know, usually I am all by myself and I listen to my iPod. We had a wonderful conversation on the way here and she's telling me what I should do. It's true."
The audience laughed.
"You think I'm joking. I'm not. I have witnesses," he said, laughing.
With this trip, Obama has visited Ohio, a perennial swing state, 11 times as president. Democrats here face tough odds in the election.
The Ohio Poll conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati showed Kasich leading Strickland by 8 percentage points.
The same poll found that former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was leading his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, by 22 percentage points in the race for a Senate seat.