Obama seeks to re-energize supporters at Columbus rally

Jinae West

In their first joint campaign appearance since 2008, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama urged a crowd of about 35,000 at Ohio State University’s Main Oval to get out and vote.

The White House said Sunday’s crowd was the largest the president has addressed since his inauguration.

The Obamas were joined onstage by a slew of politicians, including Gov. Ted Strickland, Lt. Gov. and Democratic Senate candidate Lee Fisher, former Ohio U.S. Sen. John Glenn, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH). Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter John Legend appeared as a musical guest.

All speakers tried to channel the excitement supporters felt with familiar chants of “Yes, we can” and words such as “hope” and “change,” once synonymous with the Obama campaign two years ago.

“Just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom,” the president said, “the kind that says you can’t overcome the cynicism of our politics, the special interest of big money, you can’t elect a skinny guy with the funny name ‘Barack Obama,’ you can’t tackle our biggest challenges.

“Everybody said, ‘No, you can’t.’ And in 2008, you showed them: Yes, we can.”

The president also acknowledged the high unemployment rate and slow economic growth under his administration.

“We’re not just advocating change, we’re doing the hard work of change,” Obama said.

The Columbus rally, organized by the Democratic National Committee, is the fourth in a series of “Moving America Forward” events with the president.

Previous rallies have been held in Madison, Wis., Philadelphia and Washington. Later this week, Obama will visit Los Angeles and Las Vegas to continue to stir support for the Democratic Party.

Earlier in the evening, both Coleman and Kilroy asked the crowd who had already sent in absentee ballots. Thousands raised their hands.

As Legend performed “Green Light” and “Ordinary People,” a sea of digital cameras and cell phones emerged.

“Everybody needs you,” he said between songs. “We can’t afford to sit out this election.”

Legend, an Ohio native, performed at rallies for Obama in 2008 and sang at the Lincoln Memorial days before the president’s inauguration in 2009.

Before introducing the president, Strickland told attendees they had a choice between “Ohio values” and “Wall Street values,” a not-so-subtle jab at Republican challenger John Kasich, a former Lehman Brothers employee.

“Let’s all vote to send the signal that we will not stand by and hand our state over to Wall Street values without a fight,” Strickland said.

Lonie Smith, a senior industrial design major at Ohio State, said he will vote in November despite many peers in his demographic who aren’t expected to show at the polls.

“I think some of the voters might have died back a little bit since it’s not a presidential election,” Smith said. “They might not think it’s that important, but it still is.”

Senior marketing major Sean Brink agreed with Smith, saying he came away from the rally with the feeling that a person’s vote matters, and not just one that’s cast for a presidential candidate.

Paul Beck, an Ohio State political science professor, said the Obama campaign three years ago was dependent on young voters and volunteers. He said the rally in Columbus, as well as others around the country, are an effort to rekindle that enthusiasm.

“The outcome is which side is better at mobilizing their supporters,” Beck said. “In 2008, it was the Democrats. In 2004, it was the Republicans. In 2010, it may well be the Republicans.”

Beck added: “(The rally) certainly can’t hurt. There’s potential it can help, but whether that’s enough to help remains to be seen.”

Contact Jinae West at [email protected].