SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio— President Barack Obama spoke before an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Shaker Heights High School on Wednesday.
"Because folks here in Ohio and across the country--you're the reason why I ran for this office in the first place. And on days like today, you remind me what we're still fighting for," said President Obama.
Wednesday's stop at Shaker Heights High School was Mr. Obama's second visit at the school, where he gave a speech in 2009. "I know there's like, a lot of things going on and personally, in my family, we really think Obama is doing a really great job under some circumstances so I'm really a great supporter of him," said Hope Gerald, a 10th grader. "If I could vote for him, I really would."
The speech marked the start of the 2012 campaign season for the president, who needs the support of Ohio voters in the upcoming election. Mr. Obama also used the opportunity to appoint the former Ohio Attorney General, Richard Cordray, to a newly-created position of consumer watchdog. "That means he'll be in charge of one thing: looking out for the best interests of American consumers. His job will be to protect families like yours from the abuses of the financial industry," said the president.
"I nominated Richard for this job last summer. And yet, for almost half a year, Republicans in the Senate have blocked his confirmation. They've refused to even give Richard and up-or-down vote. It's not because he's unqualified. There is no question that Richard is the right person for this job. He's got support from Democrats and Republicans," said President Obama. "The only reason Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard is because they don't agree with the law setting up the consumer watchdog. They want to weaken it."
"Every day that Richard waited to be confirmed was another day when millions of Americans are left unprotected," said Mr. Obama. "Without a Director in place, the consumer watchdog agency we've set up is left without the tools it needs to prevent dishonest mortgage brokers, payday lenders and debt collectors from taking advantage of consumers."
Recent polling, including the Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll from November, shows President Obama would face a close election in Ohio with 45% of the vote if challenged by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Romney received 42% of the vote in the Quinnipiac poll. On Tuesday, Romney won the Iowa caucus, which is the first-in-the-nation test of GOP contenders. The republican candidates now shift their focus to New Hampshire, where the primary is Tuesday, January 10th. Ohio's primary date is Tuesday, March 6th.
Ohio's 18 electoral votes are crucial for the president, but the struggling economy has taken a toll on his approval rating. When the president was elected in November 2008, Ohio's unemployment rate was 7.3%. By January 2009, when he took the oath of office, Ohio's unemployment rate had risen to 8.8%. Currently, it stands at 8.5%. According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the number of unemployed workers in the state was 496,000 in November, down from 526,000 in October.
"I've said before that I will continue to look for every opportunity to work with Congress to move this country forward and create jobs," said President Obama. "For too long, we've had a financial system that stacked the deck against ordinary Americans. Banks on Wall Street played by different rules than businesses on Main Street--or a lot of community banks. Hidden fees and fine print led consumers to make financial decisions they didn't always understand. And all that risky behavior led to an economic crisis that we're still digging ourselves out of."
The gymnasium was filled with students and supporters, like Brenda Reese, who waited in the cold for a ticket. "I think that any president that would've taken the position he did would've had a hard way to go, so I think considering what he has to work with and, the way things are going, he's doing the best that he can," said Reese.
"Cleveland, I know you're hearing a lot of promises from a lot of politicians lately. But today, you're only going to hear one from me. As long as I have the privilege of serving as your president, I promise to do everything I can, every day, to make this country a place where hard work and responsibility mean something--where everyone can get ahead, not just those at the very top or those who know how to work the system."
Wednesday's visit was President Obama's seventeenth trip to Ohio since taking office.
*Watch the below video to learn how a local school honored President Obama.