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Obama Rallies In Ohio


Former President Barack Obama spoke last night in Ohio where Democrats hope to take back the governorship. The former president has been defending his record and questioning that of his successor. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Cleveland.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This was an Ohio rally for Ohio candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, for U.S. Senate and right on down the ticket. Even so, there was that moment just after 8 p.m. when the vibe in the high school gymnasium felt very 2008.


BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Cleveland.

U2: (Singing) I knew much more then than I do now.

OBAMA: Hello, Ohio.

GONYEA: That song by U2 was candidate Obama's entrance music back then. It played again last night. Obama shaking hands on stage. He then turned to the Cleveland audience.


OBAMA: I tell you what, baseball team's looking good.


GONYEA: Obama talking sports is nothing new, but even that fleeting moment underscores the contrast with President Trump, whose approach to sports has included frequent attacks on athletes, from protesting NFL players to LeBron James. In Cleveland, the crowd heard a former president defend his own record and play offense.


OBAMA: I don't know what happened to our culture where sometimes we think that if you're a kind person and a thoughtful person, then you must not be a tough person.


OBAMA: I don't know when we began to celebrate bullies instead of looking out for people who care for other people.


OBAMA: When did that happen? When did that happen?

GONYEA: And while Obama covered a wide range of topics, he kept circling back to one thing - the need to vote.


OBAMA: When you vote, you've got the power to make sure our voting rights are protected...


OBAMA: ...And our criminal justice system treats everybody equally under the law.

GONYEA: And this one about indifference.


OBAMA: The biggest threat to our democracy is where you just turn away from politics and you stay home on Election Day.

GONYEA: Even the location of this rally, in a neighborhood east of downtown, sent a message that African-American voters are a critical part of the Democratic base. And turnout here could be the difference in the tight governor's race between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine.


OBAMA: And give it up for the next governor of the great state Ohio, Rich Cordray.


GONYEA: Afterward, as people filed out, 34-year-old government worker Donald Forrest said he took the message to heart.

DONALD FORREST: We just need to get up and vote.

GONYEA: Health care worker Kimberly Donlow had her 9-year-old grandson with her. She always votes, but says she'll also be volunteering.

KIMBERLY DONLOW: So I had to get here tonight and just - he's still fabulous. He's still a great motivational speaker, and I'm ready. I'm ready to get busy.

GONYEA: Now Ohio Democrats look to leverage what Obama did for them last night, to try to make sure its impact extends through to Election Day. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF U2 SONG, "RACE AGAINST TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.