Buoyant Obama bets on Ohio's backing

Fri, Jul 6, 2012, 01:00

“NOTHING CAN stop us, America,” US president Barack Obama vowed when he launched his two-day “Betting on America” bus trip through the crucial swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania yesterday.

Obama appeared buoyant after a spate of good news: two supreme court victories last week, and a surge in opinion polls that puts him nine points ahead of Republican challenger Mitt Romney in Ohio, without which no Republican has yet won the presidency.

Obama is six points ahead in neighbouring Pennsylvania, and five points ahead nationwide. In the best news of all for the incumbent president, he surpasses Romney – by an average eight points – in 11 of the 12 swing states that will decide the November election.

Obama is not taking anything for granted. “There has been more money flooding into the system than we’ve ever seen before,” he said, referring to the fact that Romney is beating him in fundraising, with the backing of some of the richest men in the US.

The president tacitly acknowledged that the magic of his 2008 campaign had faded.

“I know sometimes it may be tempting to kind of turn away from all of it, and just turn off the TV ... It’s easy sometimes, I think, to lose interest and lose heart when you hear what’s going on in Washington ... There are some folks who are betting that you will lose interest, that are betting that somehow you’re going to lose heart. But here you are in the heat. I’m betting you’re not going to lose interest.

“I’m betting you’re not going to lose heart ... I’m betting on you. And the country is betting on you, Ohio.”

Several people in the crowd said Obama would win Ohio because he bailed out the car industry, the mainstay of the economy in Toledo. At 7.3 per cent, unemployment in Ohio is almost a percentage point lower than the national average.

“When the American auto industry was on the brink of collapse, and more than one million jobs were on the line, Governor Romney said we should just let Detroit go bankrupt,” Obama said.

“I was betting on the American worker and I was betting on American industry. And three years later, the American auto industry is coming roaring back. That Chrysler plant up the road bringing on another 1,100 employees ... The Wrangler, built right here in Toledo, just set an all-time sales record. What’s happening in Toledo can happen in cities like Cleveland, can happen in Pittsburgh. It can happen in other industries.”

The crowd burst into chants of “four more years, four more years”. Many had queued for hours in humid, 38-degree weather to hear Obama. “I’m a lifelong Republican,” Richard Hamilton (80), a semi-retired attorney, said. “But I have to vote for Obama. The Republican Party believes the world is flat, and most of them have fallen off the edge. They just don’t understand the problems of the country; we need universal healthcare.”

If Obama had one shortcoming, Hamilton added, “I wish he was a little more forceful sometimes. He believes you can get a lot done by negotiation. I don’t think that’s possible in today’s atmosphere.”

Sherry Burden (49), the director of an organisation for native American veterans with disabilities, wore rain-dance regalia. Obama was “a good man who stands for people’s rights; a decent man”, she said.

“He’s working hard to give us land rights and money. Republicans have never done anything for us. There are only 800,000 Indians left, out of 16 million in 1800. They killed us all.”

Kinesha Williams (35), a secretary for the city of Toledo, sang the national anthem at the rally. “I love him,” gushed Williams, who is African-American. “I love everything he has done and will do. He has given us a sense of pride. He’s a positive role model for our young people.”

Student Jeanine Momenee (17) said she would vote for Obama because last week he finally persuaded Congress to maintain low rates for student loans. Her father, Gerald (48), an insurance agent, would vote for Obama too, “because he’s more of a human being, and Romney’s a robot”.

Romney was present in Maumee, in the form of two surrogates who are rehearsing for the role of Republican vice-presidential running mate: Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota.

They held an impromptu press conference in the driveway of a local hotel. A bus emblazoned with the words “Romney Victory” served as a backdrop.

Instead of “Betting on America”, Pawlenty said, Obama’s trip should be called the “Broken Promises” tour.

In his speech, Obama vaunted the enforcement action against China, which he initiated in the World Trade Organisation yesterday, for $3 billion (€2.4 billion) in unfair tariffs on US cars. “You’ve heard of Johnny-come-lately,” Pawlenty said. “This is Barack-come-lately. He’s been in office nearly four years.”

“Four years ago, it was about hope and change,” Jindal said. “Today, it’s about divide and blame ... The president simply can’t ask the American people: ‘Are you better off than four years ago?’”

The Romney campaign seems to relish the prospect of a poor monthly jobs report today to dampen the high spirits of Obama’s tour. Reuters predicts the report will show 90,000 jobs were added in June – not enough to bring the unemployment rate below the current 8.2 per cent.

Since Franklin D Roosevelt, no incumbent president has been re-elected with a jobless rate above 8 per cent.