President Barack Obama couched himself as the fighter for the middle class and his opponent as the champion of the wealthy during a campaign stop in Akron on Wednesday.
“Ohio, we need tax cuts for working Americans,” he told the responsive crowd of about 3,000 at the John S. Knight Center downtown. “We need tax cuts for families trying to raise kids, send kids to college. Not tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, but for companies that invest in Ohio!”
Obama, who was actually early to his Akron stop after being in Mansfield, spoke for about 25 minutes, with frequent interruptions from the enthusiastic audience.
“We love you!” someone cheered early in his remarks.
“I love you too!” he responded.
The crowd broke into chants of “Four more years!” several times, pumping four fingers in the air in unison.
Obama flew into and departed from the Akron-Canton Airport. He’s moving on to campaign events in Florida and Virginia.
The Akron Fire Department pegged the Knight Center audience at 3,000, with lucky supporters on two sets of bleachers and the rest standing. A few were behind the risers for the photographers, which obstructed their view. (They complained, but to no avail.) It was a much smaller crowd than at the same venue in 2008, when about 6,000 attended an Obama event.
The line to get in stretched from the Knight Center down South Broadway to East Market Street. The doors opened shortly after 1 p.m. for those who had a ticket distributed by the campaign Tuesday. As if at a sporting event, people who were without tickets were looking for scalpers, asking others if they had any extras.
Michelle Lee, 38, of Akron wasn’t so lucky, but she waited the entire visit, hoping at least for a glimpse of the president.
“When I found out the president was going to be here, I called my husband and said I was going to be late and to feed the kids,” she said. “I was dying to get in. I would love to hear him speak.”
Camille Dickerson and her daughter, Haley, 15, got there just in time. They rode their bikes from West Akron to avoid traffic and parking problems, changed clothes in the library and were in line before the doors closed shortly before 3 p.m.
“We timed it perfectly,” Camille said.
The Rev. Ron Fowler of Arlington Church of God met Obama in a special VIP session before he spoke.
“With all the talk of voter apathy, it was good to see people enthusiastic,” he said. “The president is warm, friendly and I would say affable. You can tell he’s a leader with a lot of sensitivity.”
Summit County Executive Russ Pry spoke briefly before Obama took the stage, crediting Obama for the resurgence of the auto industry, which he said has helped spin off companies like Roechling Automotive that recently opened a plant in Akron for its plastic auto-parts business. He also said Obama has been supportive of research initiatives such as those at the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron.
“We can’t afford to fall back to the same failed policies that created so much hurt for our state, our workers and the middle class,” he said.
Obama tipped his hat to Pry and to Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who wasn’t expected to be there because of a leg surgery he had Wednesday that was scheduled before the president announced his trip. But Plusquellic attended in a wheelchair.
Obama talked about his record over the past 3› years, including leading a turnaround of the auto industry, passing health care legislation, ending the war in Iraq and taking care of veterans. At one point during the speech, Obama noticed that someone in the front row had fainted and called for a paramedic.
“This happens to me all of the time,” he quipped. “It means I’ve talked too long.”
(Akron firefighters said they treated five people at the convention center and took one to the hospital. The person was expected to recover.)
Obama said he and Mitt Romney, the presumed GOP candidate, have “two different visions” of the direction the country should go. He said Romney would extend the tax cuts for wealthier Americans put in place under President George W. Bush and give a $5 trillion tax reduction on top of this.
Obama said the bulk would go to the wealthiest Americans — the top 1 percent. He said the only way to make these cuts would be to get rid of the tax breaks “middle class families depend on,” such as home mortgage deductions and college tax credits. He said this would mean a tax increase for the average middle class family of $2,000 a year.
“Boo!” the audience yelled.
“Does that sound like a plan you can afford?” Obama asked.
“No!” the crowd shouted.
Obama said he would keep taxes the same for those who earn less than $250,000 and reduce tax credits for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. He said this money would be used to hire new teachers, rebuild roads and bridges, invest in community colleges and support science research.
“My hair may be grayer but my determination is stronger than ever,” Obama, who will turn 51 Saturday, said, urging his supporters to volunteer for the campaign. “I promise we will win the state of Ohio. We will win this election. We will remind the world why the United States is the greatest country on Earth.”
Obama shook the hands of many in the audience and special guests in the bleachers before leaving the convention center with a wave.
Chris Maloney, a spokesman for Mitt Romney’s campaign in Ohio, was denied access to the event, though he had a ticket. He said an Obama campaign official told him, “We have the right to revoke a ticket from anyone.”
“OK then,” he responded.
The Romney bus was seen driving up South Broadway before the event started. Romney hasn’t yet visited Summit County, though he made a stop in Brunswick in Medina County on Father’s Day.
Marguerite White of Akron was among the people who got into the event but then ended up behind the risers, unable to see the stage. She said she didn’t mind.
“I was more interested in what he had to say, so it worked out fine,” she said.
James Taylor of Akron, who wore a Vietnam War veterans hat, said he saw Obama at the Knight Center in 2008 and wanted to see him again. He also wanted to see first-hand how much gray hair the president has gotten since he’s taken office. He said he’s noticed that most presidents leave office with a lot more gray than they had when they went in.
“It takes a special type of person to want to do this,” he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098.