Barack Obama urges Ohio Democrats to vote early

As voting opens in the US the president asks voters to reject Republican Donald Trump


US President Barack Obama took the stage in Cleveland, Ohio, yesterday for his fourth campaign rally for Hillary Clinton to the backing of U2’s City of Blinding Lights.

Against Cleveland’s glimmering skyline at Burke Lakefront Airport, Obama came to Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s most populous, two days after voting began in the state, to get out the vote.

Shortly after he started to speak, an anti-Clinton protester in the crowd interrupted the president. The crowd started booing. Obama jumped in: “What do I say? Don’t boo . . .” The audience completed his catchphrase of this election, shouting: “Vote.”

In a brutal fight between two candidates with the worst negative ratings in decades, driving turnout and stirring enthusiasm among turned-off voters is key to victory for both sides. Cue Obama, who along with his wife Michelle, are Clinton’s most powerful surrogates. “Ohio is always close and so you can early-vote right now,” he said.

The two-term president, who won Ohio twice, spoke from experience. His 2012 opponent Mitt Romney won the vote on Election Day four years ago but Obama had banked enough early votes to ensure his Republican opponent could not make up the difference. The Obama-Democratic game worked. A third of Ohio’s 5.6 million votes in 2012 were early votes.

This year, Cuyahoga County is as critical for Clinton’s success as it was for Obama four years ago. Obama won Ohio by 103,481 votes – less than 2 percentage points – but secured 236,478 more votes than Romney (out of 611,512 votes cast) in Cuyahoga County alone.

Track where Obama has stumped for the Democratic nominee – twice in North Carolina, once in Pennsylvania and in Ohio – and you see the states that will decide this election.

This race is coming down to those three states and Florida. The Democratic advantage Clinton enjoys on the coasts and in big cities means she has a number of paths to the 270 electoral votes to win. Trump needs those four states, including Ohio’s must-win 18 votes. Castigating Trump for his comments about women and immigrants, and his dictatorial urges to jail his opponent, Obama said the Republican candidate was “just going to drag this election as low as it can possibly go”, arguing that he was likely to depress turnout with his attacks. “Don’t fall for it,” warned Obama.

Feel conflicted

“It is more anti-Trump. I am afraid some of those people will just stay home.”

Frank D Russo (65), proudly giving his middle initial to attest to his “FDR” Democratic roots, just landed in Cleveland on a “red eye” from his home in California to stump for Clinton in Ohio for the next 25 days. He has been campaigning like this since he was 18.

“We got the boots on the ground to make a big difference. That will swing it three to five points,” said Russo.

Next to him, a Cleveland native Dan Garofalo, also 65, offered his own assessment of Trump’s Cuyahoga County campaign organisation by comparison: “I think it’s one guy pushing a dumpster.”

Clinton certainly needs Russo’s points target. Ohio is a dead heat and the closest of the 11 battleground states.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll/Marist poll on Thursday put Ohio back in the Trump column with a 42 per cent to 41 per cent lead there.

Targeting millennials

Bernie Sanders

“A lot of young people are saying that they are not into it or they don’t necessarily like her,” said student Scott Rainey (20), who travelled from Kent State University, about an hour south of Cleveland near the city of Akron, to the Obama rally with his friend Clare Goebel, also 20.

“But when it comes down to voting day, they will absolutely vote for her because first and foremost the alternative is Donald Trump. Not a lot of people I know, especially young people, are big on him,” said Rainey.

Obama certainly hopes that is the case. He implored everyone, including young people, not to sit it out but to vote for Clinton.

“In this election, whatever it is you care about, it could not be easier for you to vote . . . If you felt the Bern in the primaries, you need to vote,” he said.

In Cleveland, the Democratic president put the choice in stark terms, declaring that “all the progress we’ve made in these last eight years is on the ballot”.

“Donald Trump’s closing argument is, ‘What do you have to lose?’” said Obama. “The answer is everything,” he replied, borrowing a recent line from Bono.