Sarah and Shereen Suleiman weren’t even born when Bill Clinton first claimed the Oval Office in 1993, but the sisters carried their parents’ enthusiasm for the former president to the John S. Knight Center on Thursday to see Clinton stump for President Barack Obama.
“My parents were big fans,” said 18-year-old Shereen as she and 1,850 others waited in a chilly mist for the doors to open. “It will be nice to see him.”
But for their part, they were more interested in what Clinton had to say about Obama, the man with far more sway over their generation.
They had tickets to hear Obama speak at the University of Akron on Wednesday, but the event was canceled because of Superstorm Sandy. Their tickets were honored at the Clinton rally.
“I think everyone’s mind is already made up,” Shereen said, “but I’d like to hear him talk about why he supports Obama.”
They got an earful of that.
The charismatic Clinton spoke to an energetic crowd that chanted, yelled and applauded as he touched on nearly every campaign issue, from job creation to student loan debt to health care.
A deafening din also followed Clinton’s acknowledgement of Ohio’s critical role as a swing state.
“I love Ohio …” he said, “and it’s OK with me that you get to decide this election.”
Some listeners were eager to show their support for actions already implemented by Obama in his first term.
Larry Rocco, a retired autoworker from Tallmadge, cheered as Clinton hailed Obama’s efforts to save the auto industry and potentially thousands of jobs in Ohio.
“I was a big fan of what he did to help the auto industry,” Rocco said of Obama.
Sandy Moore, of Akron, couldn’t agree more.
“You wouldn’t be able to buy an American-made car if not for Barack Obama,” she said.
On the other end of the age spectrum, UA student Anthony Stratis said he was thrilled with Obama’s measures to make student loans more affordable.
“I’m the first generation in my family to go to college,” said Stratis, the American-born son of Greek immigrants, “so I really appreciate that Obama doesn’t want college to just be a dream for people, but a reality.”
Clinton’s appearance — his first in Akron this political season — was preceded by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by U.S. Navy veteran John Schmidt, and the singing of the national anthem by community volunteer Charessa Banks. Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and U.S. Reps. Betty Sutton and Tim Ryan also warmed up the crowd.
But there was no question who the crowd had come to see, and what it was they wanted to hear.
They cheered loudly after Clinton said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s camp “has said, as near as I can see it this whole campaign, that they have no intention of letting their strategy be dictated by fact-checkers.”
“I’m still sort of partial to the facts,” he said, then proceeded to pull out newspaper clippings to answer Romney’s claims that Obama’s economic efforts have failed.
One headline touted a report that General Motors’ $1.4 billion profit topped expectations; another noted Chrysler sales had reached a five-year high.
Clinton also promoted Obama’s plan to fund Medicare for the next 12 years, his support of solar and wind industries that are employing thousands of people, and a debt reduction plan that increases taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
“Barack Obama became president six weeks after we suffered the biggest financial crisis since the Depression,” Clinton said. “He acted to stop it from becoming a depression, and then began the long road back.”
“Who’s most likely to restore the middle class … who’s more likely to invest in the jobs of the 21st century … who’s most likely to take us all along for the ride instead of leaving a bunch of us behind?” Clinton said. “Barack Obama.”