RICHMOND, Va. — President Obama rallied supporters at Virginia Commonwealth University with the second of two campaign kickoff speeches that took square aim at Mitt Romney and House Republicans, accusing them of trying to “go right back to the policies that created this mess in the first place.”
“We’ve come too far to abandon the change we fought for these past few years,” Obama said. “Virginia, we’ve got to move forward!”
An audience member among the capacity crowd of 8,000 echoed the new campaign slogan instantly — “Forward!” — waving a red sign reading “Not Back.”
The Obama campaign has portrayed Republicans as a throwback to President Bush on the economy and a vestige of the 1950s on women’s rights, and Obama ran with the idea in his remarks.
“On issue after issue, we just can’t afford to spend the next four years going backward,” Obama said. “America doesn’t need to re-fight the battles we just had over Wall Street reform and health care reform.”
He added: “We certainly don’t need another political fight about ending a woman’s right to choose, or getting rid of Planned Parenthood or taking away access to affordable birth control. I want women to control their own health choices, just like I want my daughters to have the same opportunities as your sons. We’re not turning back the clock.”
Echoing Romney’s own characterization of the president, Obama called his likely opponent a “patriotic American” and praised him as a family man and successful businessman. But the niceties ended there. Obama said Romney “learned the wrong lessons from these experiences,” moving on to a variety of attacks connected directly to Romney’s vast wealth.
“He doesn’t seem to understand that maximizing profits by whatever means necessary, whether through layoffs or outsourcing or tax avoidance or union busting, may not always be good for the average American or for our economy,” he said. “Why else would he want to spend trillions more on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Why else would he propose cutting his own taxes while raising them on 18 million working families?”
Obama’s combative stance against Romney and the House GOP — he linked the two throughout the speech — is a markedly more aggressive tack than the upbeat message that made him a phenomenon in 2008. But he assured the audience that at its core, the campaign had not changed, summoning nostalgic memories of the election that brought him to the White House.
“If people ask you, ‘What’s this campaign about?’ you tell them it’s still about hope,” he said. “You tell them its still about change. You tell them it’s still about ordinary people who believe in the face of great odds that we can make a difference in the life of this country — you can.”
He concluded, barely audible over the deafening roar from the crowd: “If you’re willing to stick with me and fight with me and press on with me, if you’re willing to work even harder in this election than in the last election, I guarantee we will move this country forward. We will finish what we started. We’re still fired up we’re still ready to go and we will remind the world once more why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.