President Barack Obama delivered a fiery campaign speech Friday in the first Pittsburgh appearance of his re-election drive, pointing out the differences between his upbringing and that of Republican foe Mitt Romney and calling on thousands of broiling supporters to back him in November.
The election, he also said, "isn't just about two candidates or two parties -- it's about two fundamentally different visions for America."
With temperatures in the high 90s, 13 attendees were taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion during the afternoon event on the Carnegie Mellon University campus.
It was also a day when, national political attention centered on U.S. Labor Department figures showing the unemployment rate stuck at 8.2 percent.
Mr. Romney jumped on those figures in a news conference near his vacation home in New Hampshire, while Mr. Obama argued his administration is still struggling with the recession it inherited in 2009.
"The president's policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it," said the former Massachusetts governor. He said jobs in his administration would be boosted by more energy exploration, fewer taxes and the repeal of Mr. Obama's health care bill, and then he finished with the kind of tough talk that both campaigns are using lately.
"America can do better and this kick in the gut has got to end," the Republican said.
Mr. Obama said his administration has "been fighting back" through the 4.4 million jobs created during the past 21/2 years. Still, "what we all understand is that we've got so much more to do. Too many of our friends and family members and neighbors are still out of work; too many folks still are seeing their home property values underwater."
Mr. Obama's 31-minute speech on the College of Fine Arts lawn was punctured with repeated applause lines by the crowd of 5,000 to 6,500 supporters, when he praised U.S. manufacturing workers, and made promises to invest in infrastructure, education, and high-speed rail and Internet.
Of the health care bill decried by conservative critics, he said, "I make no apologies for it. It was the right thing to do. And we're going to keep moving forward."
Through the speech -- and elsewhere along his "Betting on America" bus tour that started in Ohio Thursday -- the Democrat kept sounding populist messages and references to his family's humble beginnings, from being raised himself by a single mother to wife Michelle's parents working blue-collar jobs.
"None of us came from privileged backgrounds, none of us had a lot of wealth or fame," Mr. Obama said. "But what we understood was that here in America, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what church you worship at, no matter what region of the country -- if you were willing to work hard, if you were willing to take responsibility for your life, you could make it if you try here in the United States of America."
He ended the address as he had before on the tour by comparing his family to other families in the crowd.
"In your grandparents, I see my grandparents. In your children, I see Malia and Sasha," he said, speaking of his daughters. "... Every morning and every night, I've thought about how we build America, and how we build America's middle class, and how we give everybody a fair shot, and how we make sure everybody is doing their fair share, and how we make sure everybody is fighting by the same rules. And if you still believe in me like I believe in you, I hope you will stand with me in 2012."
The president's campaign had some fun with Mr. Romney through the day by giving reporters cookies from Bethel Bakery that his opponent spurned in a campaign visit in April, then stopping at Kretchmar's Bakery in Beaver on the way to his speech at CMU.
The president bought pies and cookies from third-generation bakery owner Lincoln Kretchmar, 36, and asked him how business was going. "It's not great, but it's not bad. We're holding our own," Mr. Kretchmar said. Outside, Mr. Obama's political adviser David Axelrod mischievously said "there are good cookies in Pittsburgh. We like the cookies in Pittsburgh."
The Romney campaign had its own treats for Mr. Obama in a competing visit from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who spoke Friday morning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland to a crowd of about 200 Romney supporters.
"We can't afford another four more years of President Obama, the most liberal, incompetent president since Jimmy Carter," Mr. Jindal said. "Never ran anything, including a lemonade stand, until we elected him president of the United States. Let's add him to the 23 million unemployed Americans."
Mr. Jindal and Mr. Pawlenty, who have both been described as possible vice presidential picks, spoke for about 20 minutes, criticizing Mr. Obama for the continued high unemployment, especially among recent college and high school graduates, as well as the large deficit. They called for the repeal of the health care legislation known as "Obamacare."
Standing in front of a banner that said simply "Romney Victory," they only briefly mentioned Mr. Romney or his proposed policies. Mr. Pawlenty said the point of their "Middle Class Promise Gap" bus tour, which closely tracked Mr. Obama's bus tour, was to provide a "balance" to the message the president delivered to residents in Ohio and Pennsylvania on his "Betting on America" bus tour.
"We should all bet on America, this tremendously blessed and beloved country," Mr. Pawlenty said. "But we shouldn't double down on Barack Obama. His presidency is a losing hand for America."
The Romney campaign bus tour made a detour between the Oakland event and the airport to Primanti Bros. in Market Square, Downtown, where Mr. Jindal and Mr. Pawlenty both ordered turkey breast and cheese sandwiches.
Kaitlynn Riely contributed. Tim McNulty: email@example.com. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns. First Published July 7, 2012 4:00 AM