MAUMEE, Ohio—In an unabashedly populist appeal to voters in the electorally pivotal state of Ohio, President Barack Obama declared Thursday that his policies had brought America's auto industry "roaring back" and highlighted a new trade action against China.
"As long as I'm president, that's what I'm going to be doing: waking up every single day thinking about how we can create more jobs for your families and more security for your communities," he told several hundred cheering supporters in the sweltering heat of the midday son in Maumee.
Obama, launching a two-day bus trek through Ohio and Pennsylvania, struck a combative tone, portraying Nov. 6 as a stark choice between his middle class-oriented agenda and that of Mitt Romney, whom he cast as caring chiefly about the wealthy. He defended his landmark health care overhaul and declared that the law was "here to stay" in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that the measure is constitutional.
And he warned voters that their choice would affect America in the decades ahead.
"The outcome of this election will determine our economic future not just for the next year or the next two years, but maybe for the next decade, or the next two," he said.
Obama said that Romney, helped by congressional Republicans, would enact deficit-fueling, ineffective tax cuts for the wealthy, and roll back regulations on banks and oil companies. And he hammered his Republican rival for his opposition to the government rescue of American automakers.
"When the American auto industry was on the brink of collapse, and more than 1 million jobs were on the line, Gov. Romney said we should just let Detroit go bankrupt," the president said. "I refused to turn my bank on communities like this one."
"I was betting on the American worker, and I was betting on American industry, and three years later the American auto industry is coming roaring back," he said. Ohio has a vast auto-parts manufacturing sector, and new plants are setting up shop.
"What's happening in Toledo can happen in cities like Cleveland, can happen in Pittsburgh, it can happen in other industries," Obama said. "And that's why I'm running for a second term as president: Because I'm going to make sure that it does. I want it happening all across this country."
The president accused Romney of overseeing—and abetting—the flight of American jobs overseas. Independent fact-checking outlets have taken a dim view of Obama's previous efforts to make those charges stick. But the president also highlighted his efforts to challenge China's allegedly unfair trade practices.
"Just this morning, my administration took a new action to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices that harm American automakers," he said. "As long as we're competing on a fair playing field instead of an unfair playing field, we'll do just fine. "
"But we're going to make sure that competition is fair," he said. A World Trade Organization complaint filed Thursday accuses China of improperly imposing duties on about $3.3 billion of American exports. A ruling for the U.S. could see China rescind the duties.
The Romney campaign hit back, with spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg accusing Obama of overseeing "an unprecedented explosion in our national debt" while the president "has broken his campaign promise to get tough on China's trade practices."
"On issues important to the people of Ohio, President Obama has utterly failed to deliver," she said in a statement.
Obama had pledged in 2008 to take steps against China over allegedly improper currency manipulation. Critics charge that Beijing keeps its currency, the yuan, artificially low against the dollar, giving its exports an unfair advantage over American goods.
Even in the scorching heat, Obama's supporters chanted that they were "fired up, ready to go."
Sharon Belkofer, 69, told Yahoo News that she forged a connection with Obama when she met him at Fort Drum, after her son was killed in Afghanistan.
"The president was so kind and compassionate. He hugged me, let me cry all over his suit," she said. "We need him. We need him for another four years."
Belkofer, who calls nearby Perrysburg home, said she knew Obama was in for a fight. "We're not foolish enough to think that, just because we think he's fabulous, everyone is going to vote for him."
"We need to work for him. We need to fight for him," she said.
Jeff MacKenzie, who teaches high school science and lives in nearby Toledo, told Yahoo News he was "hoping the president gets another four years." Why? "Because this country was a mess when he took it over, and he's really started to turn things around."
"Obamacare, in particular, is one of his greatest achievements. This country's too great to have people who don't have health insurance," said MacKenzie, 53.
MacKenzie has been touched by the law: His 24-year-old daughter recently lost her job as a special education teacher—and with it, her insurance. "So she's on my plan now," he said. "You know things are bad when special ed teachers are losing their jobs."