SPRINGFIELD, Ohio (AP) — He cajoles his audience into action. He needles rival Mitt Romney with biting mockery. He reminds voters about the past and where he wants to take them.
In the final days of his final campaign, President Barack Obama is part community organizer, part history professor and part locker-room basketball coach, imploring crowds — and the wider electorate — to let him finish what he started. The nation has been bruised by recession and war, he contends, but remains resilient and is coming back.
Most voters may see only snippets of Obama's speeches on television. But for the crowds who cram into high school gymnasiums in cities like Springfield, Obama's message is one of choice and contrast, of tough decisions made and promises kept. At stake, he says, is a fight for the middle class.
"The folks at the very top in this country, they don't need another champion in Washington. They've got lobbyists. They've got PACs. They've always got a seat at the table," Obama says in Ohio, a state at the heart of his re-election strategy. "But people who need a champion are the Americans whose letters I read every night — the men and women I meet on the campaign trail every day."
People like a laid-off furniture worker retraining at age 55, a small-restaurant owner who needs a loan to expand, the cooks and waiters who staff a Las Vegas hotel and want to buy their first home or send their child to college.
"All those kids in inner cities and small farm towns, and the rolling Virginia hills, or the valleys of Ohio, or right here in Springfield — kids dreaming of becoming doctors and scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs and diplomats, and maybe even a president," Obama says, his voice booming into the microphone. "They need a champion in Washington."
Obama rocketed to fame with his message of unity at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, but his populist argument befits a man running for re-election in a divided nation and a tight-as-a-drum race against Romney. His remarks have remained remarkably consistent for months, drawing on a thesis and a slate of policy proposals formed after the debt ceiling fight during the summer of 2011 — arguably the low point of his presidency.
From the outset, he reminds audiences of where the country has been. In 2008, when he won the Democratic nomination, "we were in the middle of two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
Throughout, he tries to connect with the audience. "Fired up?" he asks, reprising the favorite applause line from the 2008 campaign. "Ready to go!" the crowd responds. Few speeches end without someone shouting, "We love you," prompting Obama to respond, "I love you back."