BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Though a pep band played fight songs to a crowd of more than 5,500 adorned in shades of orange and brown at Bowling Green State University’s Stoh Center on Wednesday, the Falcon fans weren’t gearing up for the basketball team, but for an address by President Barack Obama.
At the Ohio campaign stop, Obama attempted to garner support for his re-election with just more than a month left before Election Day. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also spent the day campaigning in the state. Ohio, which opens early voting on Oct. 2, has historically been a critical component to winning an election, and a hotly contested battleground state.
In the speech, Obama said Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan’s believe in a policy of “top-down economics” that constitutes tax breaks for the wealthy. The comment drew boos from the crowd, to which Obama responded with “Don’t boo, vote!”
In his speech, Obama addressed the need for jobs in the state — Ohio’s unemployment rate reached 7.2 percent in August — adding that he has already made strides toward reinvigorating the workforce that his opponent will destroy if elected.
The focus on the state’s economy will only escalate as Election Day nears as no candidate has been elected president without winning Ohio’s electoral votes since then-Senator John F. Kennedy lost the state to Richard M. Nixon in 1960. Any Republican that has ever won the presidency has also won Ohio.
According to Michael Heaney, an assistant professor of political science, a win in Ohio is crucial to clenching the election.
“It’s critical for Romney, and for Obama it’s a really valuable state; it’s not essential. If Obama wins Ohio, he will almost certainly win the presidential election,” Heaney said. “If Romney doesn’t win Ohio … he will almost certainly lose the presidential election.”
In his remarks, Obama specifically mentioned Romney’s opposition to the bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors, noting that the companies help support numerous job opportunities in Ohio.
“Today the American auto industry has come roaring back with nearly 250,000 new jobs,” Obama said. “Now you’ve got a choice, we can give more tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas or we can start rewarding companies for opening new plants and training new workers, and creating jobs right here in the United States.”
Obama also referred to Romney’s now infamous comments that 47 percent of the country is dependent on the government and believe they are “victims.”
“I don’t believe we can get very far with leaders who write off half the nation as a bunch of victims who never take responsibility for their own lives,” Obama said. “As I drive around Ohio and as I look around, I don’t see a bunch of victims, I see hard-working Ohioans.”
He added, “We’ve got students who are trying to work their way through college, we’ve got single moms who put in overtime to raise their kids.”
Obama said increasing accessibility to higher education is critical, noting that college has served as a “gateway to opportunity” leading him to where he is today. To meet this goal, he said he has worked to provide college students with more grants and lower student loan rates.
“Today millions of students are paying less for college because we took on a system that was wasting billions of dollars by using banks and lenders (in) the student loan process … We said let’s give that money directly to students, and as a consequence millions of students are getting more grants and we kept interest rates on student loans low,” Obama said.
In an interview following the president’s speech, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama’s visit to Ohio shows his commitment to working families.
“The president is committed to the people taking these auto bailouts,” Carney said
He noted that the alternative “would have had a dramatic impact on the livelihood of a million families, or more, including so many here in Ohio.”
Caitlyn Fuller, a BGSU senior and life-long resident of Bowling Green, said she came to the event to support the president, who she finds much more relatable than Romney.
“(Romney is) just really, really wealthy and I’m not sure how in touch he is with Ohio,” Fuller said.
Fuller said she believes the president has the right idea about a college education as a crucial means of boosting the economy.
“We need a president who is helping us out and not penalizing people for seeking out higher education,” Fuller said. “I’ve taken out unsubsidized loans, and it’s been a huge help that I don’t have to go to a bank, that I can rely on the government, and I’ve also got government aid through FAFSA.”
Fuller, who has worked as a waitress to help pay for college, said she found Romney’s “victims” comments to be out of line, as a citizen who has worked hard to provide for herself as much as possible.
“I might get government aid by unsubsidized loans and things like that, but I’m definitely not looking to be on government aid my entire life,” she said.
Seth Melchor, a BGSU senior who has volunteered for the Obama campaign since 2008 and introduced the president before his remarks, said he believes Obama resonates with Americans in a way Romney can’t.
“You’ll notice that the way that he connects with average Americans, we haven’t seen in generations, it’s truly unique,” Melchor said. “The fact that he’s interested in connecting with each and every person … He brought my entire family back and signed stuff for us and he gave my grandma a kiss on the cheek. (She) just about passed out she was so excited.”
Melchor said Obama is clearly the strong candidate, noting how Romney’s “victims” comment has alienated a substantial portion of the population.
“I don’t pay income tax because I’m a college student. I don’t think the government owes me anything, I’m not a victim, I just don’t make enough money to do it yet,” Melchor said. “When I will eventually, I have no problem doing that, I think that we have to support those that aren’t yet in a position to succeed, and the president is absolutely willing to do that as opposed to someone who wants to ignore half our nation.”
—Daily Staff Reporter Andrew Schulman contributed to this report.