Columbus — You hear it every four years, President Barack Obama told an audience of Democrats and like-minded voters Oct. 13.
But this year, the president said, the oft-mentioned most important election mantra is truer than ever, given the race for the White House between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“I cannot think of a more important election in our lifetimes, because the choice between candidates has never been this stark,” Obama said. “It’s a choice between somebody who is qualified as has ever been to run for this office, somebody who’s over and over proven that they know how to lead and know how to work and understand the issues working families are facing.”
He added, “On the other hand, you’ve got somebody who each and every day, every time he talks, proves himself unfit and unqualified for this office.”
Obama was the featured speaker at an Ohio Democratic Party dinner in Columbus Oct. 13, with upward of 2,000 people in attendance.
The event included comments by several of Ohio’s Democratic office-holders, plus the presentation of several awards, including one honoring state Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) for her efforts to protect eligible Ohioans’ right to vote.
Obama’s appearance came a couple of hours after Trump spoke at a downtown hotel less than a mile away to a group of about 400 college students, where he slammed the president for his policy decisions over the past eight years.
Seth Unger, a spokesman for Trump’s Ohio campaign, added in a statement, “Barack Obama is so desperate for a third term that he’s become Defender-in-Chief for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, even as more evidence of her disdain for regular Ohioans leaks out every day. In big money speeches to Wall Street, Hillary advocates for ‘hemispheric’ open trade and open borders that would force more Ohio jobs overseas, admits to having two-faced private positions for lobbyists that conflict with her public positions, and says that terrorism is ‘not a threat to us as a nation.’ President Obama and Hillary Clinton got America into this mess together, and Donald Trump is the only one who can stop them from further cementing their legacy of failure at home and abroad in our history books.”
Democrats at the Oct. 13 dinner, however, said Trump was not fit to be president.
“[Trump] doesn’t have the character to be president of the United States,” Sen. Sherrod Brown told reporters. “He’s the least qualified candidate to be president in my lifetime… Hillary Clinton’s going to win because she has answers for the problems in this state….”
Congressman Tim Ryan added to Trump, “You made your money on the backs of poor, working-class people, you filed for bankruptcy, you cut them loose… You will never win Ohio, and you will never be president of the United States.”
Obama focused much of his speech on Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, praising former Gov. and current U.S. Senate candidate Ted Strickland and urging voters to back his candidacy against Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
The president slammed the latter, calling out the incumbent’s late decision to stop supporting Trump’s candidacy.
Portman is leading the Senate race by double digits; Natalie Strom, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, offered in a released statement Oct. 13, “While they might try and hold up this drop in by President Obama as evidence that Ted Strickland’s campaign still has a chance, the truth is that Democrats have almost completely abandoned Retread Ted as poll after poll shows that Ohioans will be choosing Rob Portman by overwhelming numbers in November.”
The president blamed Portman and others who stuck with the Republican nominee, until a recording surfaced last week of Trump making lewd comments about women, for helping to set the tone of the present campaign and the positions Trump has espoused.
“The people who knew better didn’t say anything,” Obama said. “… They stood by while this happened. And Donald Trump, as he’s prone to do, he didn’t build the building himself but he slapped his name on it and took credit for it. And that’s what happened in their party — all that bile, all the exaggeration, all that stuff that was not grounded in fact just … bubbled up, started surfacing.”
Obama also urged voters to focus on the optimism and resilience and the goodness and decency in the country — values they should pass on to the next generation.
“This isn’t just about winning elections,” he said. “It’s also about affirming this democracy and affirming the basic idea that people who love their country can change it, that the most important office in this country is the office of citizen, that ordinary people when they get together can transform this nation and can solve any problem and can overcome any obstacle and heal any division.”
Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.