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York: Dems fire up base, Romney claims mantle of change

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Photo - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (AP photo)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (AP photo)
Politics,Byron York,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

CINCINNATI -- Republicans are searching everywhere in Ohio for an intensity gap, evidence that GOP voters are more enthusiastic than Democrats this year. But the intensity gap was nowhere to be seen when President Obama visited the Fifth Third Arena on the University of Cincinnati campus Sunday night. The hall, which seats a little more than 13,000, was filled and loud -- really loud. If Democrats in this part of Ohio are down, they are doing a very good job of hiding it.

It's sometimes said Democrats long for the old Barack Obama, the candidate of 2008. For the closing days of this race, the campaign is giving them both old and new Obama. Before the president appeared in Cincinnati, his aides played a video of Obama at one of his last appearances of the 2008 campaign, telling the story of how he came to adopt the chant "Fired up -- ready to go!" It's not a new video; it was played at the convention in Charlotte, N.C. But the Cincinnati crowd was transfixed, looking up at the '08 Obama. The cheers were huge, even though the applause lines were old and on a video screen. Everyone seemed happy to be back in 2008 again.

Just as in '08, Obama is getting the support of big stars who are coming out in the campaign's final days. In Cincinnati, the president's opening act was Stevie Wonder, who managed to incorporate "Fired up -- ready to go!" into every song. Really -- every song.

Two days earlier, when Kid Rock played before Mitt Romney's huge rally in nearby West Chester, Ohio, Rock pointedly told the crowd he wasn't there to talk politics, that he would leave that to the politicians. Wonder, on the other hand, was a veritable campaign organizer. "Just 537 votes decided the election in 2000, and this year it's going to be even closer," he told the crowd. "Make sure that you vote! Make sure that you vote! Make sure that you vote!"

"We cannot move backward!" Wonder exhorted. "We have to move forward! We're on the right track! We can't go back!"

Another speaker before the president also mentioned those 537 votes in Florida. While the polls shows Obama with the lead here in Ohio, Democrats obviously expect things to be pretty tight.

Obama's final argument shows that Romney has put him on the defensive. At the megarally Friday night, Romney used the word "change" 13 times, stealing Obama's main theme from 2008. "Are you finally ready for real change?" he asked.

In Cincinnati, Obama said "change" twice as many times, but mostly in an effort to show that Romney's "real change" is a phony concept and that the old Obama change is still the Real Thing. "Gov. Romney ... has tried as hard as he can to repackage the old ideas that didn't work as new ideas," Obama said. "In fact, he's offered them up as change -- says he's the candidate of change."

The audience laughed, but Obama went on to spend so much time arguing that his version of change is genuine that it became clear Romney had gotten under his skin. "I know what real change looks like," Obama said. "It's because I've fought for it, because I delivered it, because I've got the scars to prove it."

In that Friday speech, Romney also used the word "better" a total of 15 times as he described better jobs, better lives, better days that lie ahead if America elects a new president. That's the essence of the Romney case: We can do better. It's not a word Obama uses much in his closing argument. In Cincinnati, he said it just once, to note that "we're building better cars here in Ohio."

Finally, as he closes out the campaign, Romney has taken to using expansive words like "destiny" to describe his vision. "The door to a brighter future is there," he said in West Chester. "It's open. It's waiting for us." After nearly four years of high unemployment and almost no economic growth, Obama just can't say that. He doesn't even try.

Yet, the crowd at Fifth Third Arena did show a lot of enthusiasm. While Romney keeps working to make his case, to convince still-undecided voters to join him, Obama has focused intently on revving up the supporters who elected him in 2008. The room was filled with the groups -- young people, African-Americans, unmarried women -- who were crucial to Obama's '08 victory. Yes, they're fired up and ready to go, but are there still enough of them to win?

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner