Photo Caption: President Barack Obama speaks to a packed College Green crowd Wednesday at Ohio University.
The media pundits seem to be saying that President Barack Obama's performance in the second debate against Mitt Romney was much better than his first outing two weeks ago, though hardly a knockout punch.
You'd never have guessed it from Obama's triumphant appearance in Athens Wednesday night, however. Surfing on a wave of love from a wildly supportive crowd, in possibly the most solidly Democratic county in Ohio, the president came out swinging hard and funny against his Republican challenger, and preaching the gospel of early voting to his fans.
"I'm not too proud to beg," he told a crowd of an estimated 14,000 people outside Ohio University's Memorial Auditorium. "I want you to vote."
The College Green was packed with people a couple of hours before the president's arrival. Their excitement was stoked by preliminary remarks from speakers including former Ohio Gov. (and congressman) Ted Strickland and Rabbi Danielle Leshaw of OU's Hillel Center.
"I am so proud of this president, and he stands in sharp contrast to the other side," Strickland declared. "When this campaign's history is written, it's going to be about Ohio… This president has stood up for us, and by God, Ohioans are going to stand up for him!"
Leshaw beat the president to the punch with the first reference of the night to Romney's awkward "binders full of women" remark during Tuesday's debate.
"Like most of the nation, I woke up thinking about the debate, and what kind of joke I could make about the binders," she admitted. "But then I realized it's not a joke. Not to me, at least."
Obama took the podium at 6:11 p.m. and had the crowd eating out of his hand from his first words.
He joked about his showing in the debates so far, telling the audience, "I'm still trying to get the hang of this thing." Repeatedly, when the crowd would respond to some comment on Romney with boos, the president would urge them, "Don't boo - vote!"
Obama tore into Romney's plans for tax reform and job creation, saying neither stands up to scrutiny, and that both represent "the same philosophy that got us into this mess." He also charged that Romney has been consistently vague about the details of the plans.
"Here's a tip," he confided. "When a politician tells you that he's going to tell you what he's going to do after the election, but he can't tell you now, it's not because the plan's so good he can't let you in on it."
Obama mocked Romney for what he suggested is a non-credible posture as a champion of coal. "Come on! Come on," he said. "You know that's not on the level." He also referred obliquely to a Romney rally that was attended by coal miners from the Murray Energy company, who allegedly were coerced into attending by the company's CEO.
In a riff that played very well with an audience that contained many OU students, the president recalled his successful efforts to increase funding for Pell grants. He also stressed his work on behalf of equal pay for women, an obvious issue to raise after Romney's debate gaffe the previous night.
In order to find qualified women, the president joked, "we don't have to order up some binders" with their resumés.
Obama said he has kept his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq, and is winding down the war in Afghanistan. With the money saved by ending those conflicts, he said, the United States can begin to invest more in its infrastructure.
"It's time to make sure that we're doing some 'nation-building' here at home," he declared.
By contrast, he alleged, the previous
Republican administration spent recklessly and helped crash the economy.
"They fought two wars on a credit card, (made) two tax cuts on a credit card, and didn't pay for anything," he claimed.
The core of the president's speech, however, was a plea for Democrat voter turnout - he even mentioned the address of the Athens County Board of Elections for those who want to vote early.
"I can't do it by myself," he told the crowd. "You can turn back the clock on 50 years of progress for women, gays, lesbians, immigrants - or you can say, 'We're going to move forward.'"
Audience member Leslie Perry of Nelsonville said the president gave "a great speech. I hope to hell that he wins. I'm not looking forward to it if Romney does. He's going to make it tough on us middle-class folks."
Stassa Phillips of Marietta shared her enthusiasm. "I loved it," she admitted. "He reiterated the strengths of the debate, and tried to get us fired up."
Oh, and Obama also mentioned the amazing Ohio Bobcats, 7-0 so far this season: "I hear you have a pretty fun football team to watch."