Ohio Residents Want More Than Obama's Words

President Obama traveled to Cleveland Wednesday to rebut GOP complaints about his economic program and to look ahead. More than one in 10 Ohio residents is looking for work. One resident said he didn't know if speeches is what reassures him — he wants results. But right now, speeches may be the only weapon Obama has.

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And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The Democrats are facing the possibility of major electoral losses in November. And in this part of the program, we'll look at their efforts to hang onto their majorities in Congress.

We start with President Obama, who campaigned in Ohio yesterday. It's no coincidence that this is the home state of House Minority Leader John Boehner, the man who could control the House if the Republicans win that chamber in November.

The president attacked Boehner and other Republicans, saying they've spent the last two years rooting for failure.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was with the president in Cleveland.

ARI SHAPIRO: Just across the campus from Cuyahoga Community College, where President Obama spoke, dozens of LongHorn Steakhouse employees from across Ohio gathered for a pastime as American as politics.

(Soundbite of ball hitting a bat)

(Soundbite of shouting)

(Soundbite of cheering)

SHAPIRO: The company's annual employee baseball tournament. These Ohioans are better off than at least 10 percent of the people in their state. More than one in 10 Ohio residents is looking for work. Everyone in this tournament has a job. Still, each player can feel the economic crunch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HEATHER BURWALD (Bartender, Waitress): I definitely feel it in the tips. I'm a bartender and a waitress.

SHAPIRO: Heather Burwald says she's been losing $100 to $150 a week in tips since the economy went bad. She has to support two kids on what she takes in. And now she's ready to hand the reins in Washington back over to Republicans. She never thought she'd say this, but she misses George W. Bush.

Ms. BURWALD: I hated George Bush but I - you know what? Over the past couple of years that Obama's been in, I'd definitely rather have him than Obama.

SHAPIRO: On the next baseball diamond over, Dave Jones is assistant coach for the day. Usually, he's a restaurant manager, so his income doesn't depend on tips. Still, he says, his lot has been harder.

Mr. DAVE JONES (Manager, Longhorn Steaks): Our labor is driven by guests coming in. So we do schedule less, which means less hours for our employees. Also, servers have to work a lot harder to earn the extra buck.

SHAPIRO: So President Obama is giving a speech over at Cuyahoga Community College, right across this parking lot. What could he say that would reassure you?

Mr. JONES: I don't know. I don't know if speeches is what reassures me. I'm more at the point of results. I've already heard the speeches.

SHAPIRO: But right now, speeches may be what President Obama has.

President BARACK OBAMA: People are frustrated and they're angry, and they're anxious about the future. I understand that. I also understand that in a political campaign, the easiest thing for the other side to do is to ride this fear and anger all the way until Election Day.�

SHAPIRO: President Obama is trying to make the case that his party deserves more time to bring the economy back, even though many Americans have not seen their lives improve since Democrats took control two years ago. Yesterday, Mr. Obama argued that the other guys haven't lifted a finger. He said Republicans are calculating that if the president fails, the Republican Party wins.

Pres. OBAMA: Well, they might think that this will get them to where they want to go in November. But it won't get our country going where it needs to go in the long run.

(Soundbite of applause)

SHAPIRO: The president also reached into his own past to make a moral argument about the kind of country America ought to be: a country that rewards hard work, he said, that is built on the promise of opportunity and upward mobility.

Pres. OBAMA: I had a single mom who put herself through school, and would wake before dawn to make sure I got a decent education. Michelle can still remember her father heading out to his job as a city worker long after multiple sclerosis had made it impossible for him to walk without crutches.

SHAPIRO: Mr. Obama explained his latest round of programs to boost the economy, including infrastructure development, and more tax credits for businesses that do research and development. But more than anything else, he attacked Republicans, mentioning House Minority Leader John Boehner by name eight times.

Professor ALEXANDER LAMIS (Political Science, Case Western University): He's coming out fighting.

SHAPIRO: Alexander Lamis teaches political science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He believes the White House strategy is more about motivating demoralized Democrats than winning over independents.

Prof. LAMIS: It reminds me of when Harry Truman campaigned in 1948 and, you know, he had his classic line to different Democratic groups that had been helped by the New Deal. He said: If you don't come out and vote your interests and vote Democratic, then shame on you, and you're going get what you deserve.

SHAPIRO: But many of those groups could see tangible benefits from 16 years of Democrats in the White House. President Obama has to convince voters that the benefits of his economic policies are just around the bend.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

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