By Sherese A. Gore
Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. – President Barack Obama kicked off his re-election bid Saturday with a rally at Virginia Commonwealth University, calling the campaign a “make-or-break moment” for the middle class.
After stumping at Ohio State University, Obama flew to Richmond to address an enthusiastic crowd of about 8,000 supporters at VCU’s Siegel Center.
Taking the stage, Obama immediately set about criticizing his Republican opponents – including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney – for their plans on tackling the economy.
“We believe that the free market is one of the greatest forces for progress in human history … that risk-takers and innovators should be rewarded,” the president said. “But we also believe that, at its best, a free market’s never been a license to take whatever you want, however you can get it.”
Obama seemed to distance himself from high levels of unemployment that have dogged his term. The nation’s unemployment rate is more than 8 percent nearly four years after Obama took office.
“This crisis took years to develop … so it’s going to take sustained, persistent effort, yours and mine, for America to fully recover,” Obama said.
He accused the Republicans of pushing an agenda that is not just conservative but “on steroids.” Obama admonished them for proposed cuts to education and Medicare.
“The Republicans in Congress have found a champion – they have found a nominee for president – who has promised to rubber-stamp this agenda if he gets a chance,” Obama said, referring to Romney.
“Virginia, I tell you what: We can’t give him the chance. This is a make-or-break moment for America’s middle class.”
It’s also a decisive moment for Obama, who holds a slim lead over Romney in many polls. It’s no surprise that Obama officially launched his re-election effort in Ohio and Virginia, two swing states that could be critical to winning in November.
Obama praised Romney as “a patriotic American” but accused the former governor of Massachusetts of drawing the “wrong lessons” from his business success.
“He sincerely believes that [as] the CEOs and wealthy investors make money, the rest of us will automatically prosper as well,” Obama said.
He cited what he sees as the highlights of his administration, including reducing dependence on foreign oil, killing Osama bin Laden and ending the war in Iraq. Obama’s promise to end the war in Afghanistan by 2014 drew cheers from the crowd.
“After a decade of war … the nation we need to build is right here,” Obama said.
Look to the future, the president urged supporters.
“When you look back four years from now or 20 … won’t we be better off if we had the courage to keep moving forward?” he asked. “That’s the question of this election.”
Republicans are urging voters to ask themselves a somewhat different question: whether Obama has delivered on the promises he made four years ago to revitalize the U.S. economy.
In a statement supporting Romney’s candidacy, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling responded to the president’s rally.
“In 2008, candidate Barack Obama came to Virginia and promised to create jobs and fix the economy. Three and a half years later, the president has more than just rhetoric to offer – he has a record. Virginians – and all Americans – will hold President Obama accountable for his inability to create jobs, rein in spending or offer a coherent energy policy,” Bolling said.
“Mitt Romney knows that we need new ideas and a new approach to get America back on track. He has the experience and the record of achievement we need to grow our economy and strengthen America at home and abroad. That’s why I’m proud to support his candidacy for president.”
Shaka Smart, coach of the VCU men’s basketball team, served as host for the Siegel Center rally. He urged the audience to re-elect Obama.
“I support President Obama because he is what a leader should be. He has a clear vision for the future, he possesses unshakable character, and he demonstrates a genuine caring and concern for the people he leads,” Smart said.
Obama was introduced by Tim Kaine, a former governor and the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.
Kaine called Republicans “reckless” for proposals such as privatizing Social Security and requiring women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion.
“We’re at a crossroads again,” said Kaine, who co-chaired Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Do we go forward or do we go backward? President Obama knows we need to out-build, out-educate, out-innovate. That’s the way to go forward.”