, COLUMBUS, Oct 18 – President Barack Obama on Sunday sent a jolt of energy through battered Democratic Party mid-term election hopes, as a crowd of 35,000 cheered his first rally in two years with his wife Michelle.
Obama showed he can still fire up a vast crowd of young supporters, despite his diminished political brand and Democratic fears of a drubbing at the hands of resurgent Republicans in congressional polls on November 2.
It was a show of force and energy in a bellwether state which helped put Obama in the White House, but which has been badly hit by the recession and high unemployment, leaving Democrats fearing a high political price.
"In a little more than two weeks you can set the direction of this state and this country," Obama told the crowd at Ohio State University, seeking to close an apparent enthusiasm gap with Republicans two weeks from polling day.
"Just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom," he said, seeking to drive up turnout among young Democratic voters even though he is not on the ballot, in a rally reminiscent of his historic presidential campaign.
"Everybody said, \’No you can\’t\’ and in 2008 you showed them \’Yes we can,\’" Obama said.
Obama was introduced by the First Lady, an increasingly confident political figure in her own right, who boasts approval ratings higher than those of her husband after his tough two years in Washington\’s political crossfire.
"If you are still as fired up and ready to go as you were two years ago… I know we can keep bringing about the change," Michelle Obama said.
In an earlier appearance in Cleveland, she introduced her husband as "the love of my life, though he doesn\’t always think it."
Obama said he was happy that his wife was back on the trail with him.
"It\’s fun having her along on this road trip," Obama said. "You know, usually I am all by myself, and I listen to my iPod.
"We had a wonderful conversation on the way here and she\’s telling me what I should do. It\’s true."
In Ohio, where former astronaut and retired Democratic senator John Glenn was on the roster of speakers, Obama admitted that his party faced a "difficult election."
"It is hard because we have been through an incredibly difficult time as a nation," he said, and slammed Republicans for not helping him lift the country on to better times.
"We can\’t return to a philosophy that nearly destroyed our economy," he said, charging that his foes back policies which triggered the crisis in the first place.
"This election… is a contest between our deepest hopes and our deepest fears. The other side is playing on fear. That\’s what they do."
Republicans however charge that Obama\’s economic policies have been a failure and that the president has failed to make good on the hope that he promised, and is guilty of a liberal, big government, takeover of the economy.
Ohio State University police estimated the crowd at 35,000 — the biggest political throng Obama has drawn since his inauguration in January 2009.
Analysts tip Republicans to net the 39 seats they needed to retake the House of Representatives on November 2 but predict they will fall just short of the 10 new seats needed to seize the Senate.
The president will launch a four-day campaign swing starting Wednesday to prop up vulnerable candidates, pour fresh cash into party coffers, and renew a bond with voters who helped put him in the White House and will likely be called upon again in his re-election bid in 2012.
He will begin in Oregon, a far western state with an independent streak, where, as presidential hopeful, Obama stunned political observers in May 2008 by drawing a crowd estimated at 75,000 people to an outdoor rally.
He will then move next door to Washington to stump for Senator Patty Murray who — like her boss in the party\’s Senate leadership, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid — is facing an unexpectedly tough race.
On October 22, Obama will ride to the rescue of Senator Barbara Boxer, an outspoken California liberal with a small edge in her close duel with former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina on historically safe Democratic turf.
The president will also travel to Reid\’s home state of Nevada, which has the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the country, as the senator fights for his political life against Tea Party favourite Sharron Angle.
He will head home via Minnesota, another likely battleground in 2012.