CANTON: Vice President Joe Biden told an amped-up Canton crowd Monday that Mitt Romney is so vague with his plans he’s “Etch-A-Sketchy.”
In what sounded like a preview of Monday night’s final presidential debate, Biden said he and President Barack Obama have committed to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Asked if this step is possible by 2014, he said Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, respond, “Maybe.”
“It depends,” Biden told a crowd of about 850 at the J. Babe Stearn Community Center in southwest Canton. “It’s like everything else with them. It depends on what day you find these guys.”
Biden spoke for about 30 minutes, touching on both foreign policy — the topic of Monday’s debate — and domestic issues while pumping up a receptive crowd. He concluded by telling the audience, “We can win Ohio and, when we win Ohio, we win this election.”
Biden’s visit was part of a three-day swing he’s making across Ohio. He traveled to Lorain on Monday afternoon, will be in Toledo this morning, then will meet Obama in Dayton in the afternoon for their first joint appearance of this campaign. Biden will finish with a stop Wednesday in Marion.
Their opposition also will have a strong presence this week in Ohio, which is still considered a key swing state in the Nov. 6 election.
Romney will be in the state Thursday and Friday, while Ryan will visit Wednesday and Saturday. Details of the stops have not been publicly released.
Biden’s appearance in Canton came as polls released Monday showed Obama leading, though not by as much as he was before, or neck-and-neck with Romney in Ohio. A Quinnipiac University Poll showed Obama up by 5 points (50 to 45), about half the margin he had during the university’s last poll. A Suffolk University poll showed the candidates tied at 47 percent.
First visit of campaign
Monday marked Biden’s first visit to the Akron-Canton area of this campaign. He visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton and an Akron union hall in 2008.
The Canton crowd featured a diverse group of people, including old and young and African-American and white. The community center gymnasium had two sets of risers, an area with folding chairs and a larger area in which people stood. A wall of campaign signs provided a backdrop, with each featuring a different campaign talking point, including “Equal Pay for Equal Work,” “Ending War in Iraq” and “Wall Street Reform.”
While waiting, the audience periodically broke into the Obama campaign mantra “Fired up!” “Ready to go!” and the Buckeye battle cry “O-H!” “I-O!” They also chanted “Four more years!”
Jesse Elder, 30, of Massillon, was excited to attend a campaign event for the first time. He said he likes everything Obama and Biden have been doing for the past four years and credits them with the job he has at the Stark County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
“A lot of people don’t see it,” he said of the progress. “It takes time.”
For Jamaica Madison, 34, of Canal Fulton, the most important issue of this campaign is health care. She and her mother have health problems and are unable to get insurance coverage. Her mother, who had a heart transplant, is paying $2,000 a month for medication.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” said Madison, a married mother of two who isn’t able to work because of her congestive heart failure and emphysema.
“I don’t think it would get any better with Mitt Romney. It would probably get worse.”
Former Gov. Ted Strickland, who co-chairs Obama’s campaign in Ohio, took to the stage with Biden, saying Obama and Biden are the “team that cares for 100 percent” of Americans.
Doreen Culver, of North Canton, a retired teacher and principal, also helped introduce Biden, saying she was always concerned about parents not being able to afford health care or medication for their children, and teachers often took up collections to help with basic medical expenses for students. She said she’s glad this won’t happen with the federal health-care law championed by Obama, which will give “every American access to healthy, affordable care.”
Biden started his remarks by telling the crowd he wished he could be in town for the Canton McKinley-Massillon Washington high school football game Saturday. He said this is a rivalry that people across the country know about.
“I want to know: Do you still talk when the season’s over?” he asked, chuckling, and earning a variety of responses from the audience.
He said he and Obama would expand Pell grants for college students, provide funding for 100,000 new math and science teachers, give tax breaks to “companies that come home — not those that go abroad,” and make permanent the middle-class tax cuts the Republicans are “holding hostage.”
Momentum in steel
“Steel’s coming back to Canton, Lorain and Youngstown,” he said. “Where is it written we can’t be the No. 1 steel producer in the world? We want to continue that momentum.”
Biden’s speech impressed Francis and Eileen Fischer of Canton.
“He’s honest,” said Francis Fischer, who once played football for Massillon and appreciated Biden mentioning his alma mater.
Eileen Fischer, who wore two Obama buttons, was pleased to hear Biden talk about bringing the troops home from Afghanistan.
“This war — I can’t understand it,” she said.
“I can’t understand it either,” agreed her husband, a Korean War veteran.