PARMA, Ohio — Bruce Springsteen planned to sit this election cycle out, but when President Barack Obama called him asking to write a song for his re-election campaign, the Boss couldn’t say no.
“He called me a few weeks ago and said, ‘Bruce, I don’t have a campaign song,’” Springsteen said at an Obama campaign event on Thursday, where he performed after a speech by former President Bill Clinton. “‘There’s a country guy who wrote a song about Mitt Romney. There’s a song gap. I need something.’”
Springsteen, of course, was joking, and after campaigning for John Kerry in 2004 and for Obama in 2008, the musician had said repeatedly in the lead up to the 2012 election that he wasn’t planning on publicly supporting a candidate.
But as polls show a tightening race between Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Springsteen decided to lend his support to the President’s re-election efforts, performing in Ohio before traveling to Iowa for another concert Thursday afternoon.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the blue- and white-walled gymnasium at Cuyahoga Community College, 3,000 people gathered to listen to Springsteen’s six-song set, while another 700 watched from an overflow room. Though he didn’t get a request from the President, Springsteen did unveil a new song — “Forward” — which he named after Obama’s re-election slogan.
“Let’s vote for the man who got Osama. Forward, and away we go,” Springsteen sang as the crowd, encouraged by the rock legend, yelled “Forward” back.
Springsteen said he had trouble finding words that rhymed with Obama, so in the second verse he sang about his love for the state of Ohio.
“I came to Ohio looking for a date,” Springsteen sang. “We kissed and I said it’s a hell of a state. We made love, but it wasn’t so great. Forward, and away we go.”
On a more serious note, however, Springsteen said he believed the “distance between the American dream and reality” continues to grow, adding that Obama will help unify the country.
“I’m here today because I’m deeply concerned about the deepening disparity in wealth between our best off citizens and our everyday citizens,” Springsteen said, while lightly strumming his guitar. “That’s a disparity that I believe our honorable opponent’s policies will increase and it threatens to divide us into two distinct and foreign nations.”
Springsteen listed a litany of Obama’s policy achievements — the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — in order to further showcase his support for Obama.
With early voting in Ohio already underway, and with several recent polls giving Obama anywhere from a one- to five-point advantage over Romney, both campaigns are heavily emphasizing the importance of winning the Buckeye State.
Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan campaigned in Ohio on Wednesday for the fifth day in just more than a week. Obama also held a rally on the campus of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio on Wednesday, and Vice President Joe Biden is expected to visit the state early next week, according to the Associated Press.
Still, one of the most active Democratic surrogates throughout the election season has been former President Bill Clinton. He has traveled exhaustively throughout the country to campaign for Obama and other Democrats, even stopping in a Detroit suburb last Friday to headline a fundraiser for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.).
In one of two rallies Clinton held in Ohio on Thursday, the former president delivered an impassioned 30-minute speech to supporters, emphasizing time and again his belief that Obama brought the economy back from the brink of disaster and is leading the country to prosperity.
Clinton highlighted the bailout of GM, which has a metal processing plant in Parma, as one of the ways the Obama administration has helped revitalize the economy.
He also discussed the administration’s efforts in making college more affordable as a means of long-term economic growth. Clinton said some of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements were lesser-known reforms that were passed along with the Affordable Care Act to federally back student loans.
“If you get out of medical school with a debt of $200,000 — which is the average medical school debt in America now — and you want to be a family practitioner in small-town rural Ohio or in inner-city Cleveland, you can do it because your repayment obligation is determined by your salary, not the other way around,” Clinton said.
While Clinton elicited cheers throughout his speech, the ovation Springsteen received when he took the stage was deafening, though he joked that following Clinton was like performing after Elvis Presley.
Nevertheless, Springsteen was the main attraction Thursday, and the crowd hung on to every lyric, singing along to hits such as “The Promised Land,” “Thunder Road” and “We Take Care of Our Own,” which has been a staple at nearly every Obama rally throughout the campaign.
In a nod to northeast Ohio, Springsteen also performed “Youngstown,” which includes the lyric, “Them smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God, into a beautiful sky of soot and clay” — paying homage to the manufacturing industries that have long defined this region, and which Springsteen said Obama helped save.
Springsteen even followed up one line in “Youngstown” about sending “our sons to Korea and Vietnam,” with a new addition about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before singing the song’s next written lyric: “Now we’re wondering what they were dyin’ for.”
Springsteen’s song choice, along with his spoken remarks, illustrated his deeply felt relationship with working-class America, which he is using to help the Obama campaign reach out to working-class voters. It is crucial for Obama to carry this demographic in order to win the election, according to Kim Farinacci, a Peninsula, Ohio resident who attended the rally.
“He speaks to the point, to the heart, like he writes in his songs,” she said. “He may be a millionaire, but he’s one of us.”