PARMA, Ohio -- Blue-collar troubadour Bruce Springsteen and former President Bill Clinton took turns Thursday boosting President Barack Obama in front of a college and suburban Cleveland crowd in Cuyahoga County, the most voter-rich in Ohio.
Acknowledging that voter excitement has cooled a bit from four years ago, Mr. Springsteen said he still sees Mr. Obama as the hope of America in advancing progressive goals and reducing income disparity.
Mr. Springsteen, playing solo with guitar and harmonica rather than with his E Street Band, interspersed remarks endorsing the Democratic president among his songs -- "Promised Land," "Youngstown," "No Surrender," "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Thunder Road," as well as Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
The joint celebrity appearance followed by a day former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's on behalf of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney in neighboring Berea, as the two candidates battle for voter support in battleground Ohio.
Thursday's rally was at the recreation center of Cuyahoga Community College's Parma campus, with 3,000 people in the hall and 700 in an overflow room, according to the Obama campaign.
Mr. Clinton offered statistics to cast the struggling economy in a better light. Banks, he said, are better capitalized than they've been in 20 years, and the one-year drop in the jobless rate from 9 percent to 7.8 percent was the steepest in 17 years.
Republicans had counted on the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeping the jobless rate above 8 percent until after the election, but it fell to 7.8 percent in September, the former president noted. "They [Republicans] talked about the 8 percent as if it were Scripture -- right up there with the tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Then [when the rate fell], they said the whole thing was rigged."
Mr. Clinton said he prefers the term "restructuring," rather than "bailout," to describe Mr. Obama's 2009 auto industry rescue that saved General Motors and Chrysler. "No banks would finance this, so the government came in and helped," he said. "All the other car companies supported this, because they know if General Motors and Chrysler went down, the auto parts suppliers would go down, and they would be left in the soup."
Mr. Clinton appealed to the crowd to reward Mr. Obama. "I love Ohio; it's an old-school place. When you were down and you were out, [and] your whole economy was threatened, the president had your back. You've got to have his back, too," he said.
Christopher Maloney, Mr. Romney's Ohio spokesman, said: "Bill Clinton acknowledged the economy has not been fixed, and he's right. ... No amount of star power can obscure the fact that President Obama has made it more difficult for Ohio families to take care of their own."
Following Mr. Clinton, Mr. Springsteen said, was "like I'm going on after Elvis here. If he'd have brought the saxophone, you'd have seen a real jam up here." He said Mr. Obama was facing "economic chaos" when he began his term, but is sticking to an agenda that he said has benefited working-class people, ended the Iraq war and protected women's right to have an abortion.
"I'm deeply concerned about the continuing disparity in wealth between our best-off citizens and our everyday citizens," he said. "That's a disparity that I believe our honorable opponent's policies will only increase, and that threatens to divide us into two distinct and foreign nations."
The New Jersey rocker said change has been slow in coming. "The future is rarely a tide rushing in. It's more often a slow march, inch by inch, day after long day," Mr. Springsteen said, "and I believe we are in the midst of those long days right now."
He tied the auto rescue to his songs' frequent car images: "I'm thankful GM's still making cars. What else would I write about? I'd have no job without that."
This was Mr. Springsteen's first appearance for Mr. Obama this election. The weekend before the 2008 vote, he campaigned for him in Cleveland.
Cuyahoga County produced 9 percent of Ohio's total 2008 vote, with Mr. Obama defeating John McCain, 68 to 30 percent.
Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Tom Troy is a reporter for The Blade. Tim McNulty: email@example.com