ELYRIA, Ohio — President Barack Obama tried to revive his battered agenda and rally despondent Democrats on Friday with a renewed emphasis on jobs. His visit to this struggling Rust Belt city capped a tough first-anniversary week for a presidency that suffered jolts at the hands of Massachusetts voters and the Supreme Court.
“I’m not going to win every round,” Obama told a town hall audience. But, striking a populist tone on a campaign-style swing, Obama pledged, “I can promise you there will be more fights in the days ahead.”
He used the word “fight” or some variation over a dozen times as he tried out a revamped message focused mainly on the economy, part of a stepped up effort to persuade Americans he’s doing all he can to create jobs.
“This isn’t about me. This is about you,” he said.
And while he has recently voiced a willingness to find common ground in the divisive health care debate, he insisted he was not ready to abandon the cause or to drop his environmental and energy agenda even with the strengthened GOP hand in the Senate.
“There are things that have to be done,” he said. “And that means marching forward, not standing still.” He acknowledged “we had a little bit of a buzz saw” on health care overhaul.
Ohio’s unemployment rate climbed to 10.9 percent in December, up from 10.7 percent in November and the ninth successive month of double-digit unemployment.
Buoyed congressional Republicans have their sights on winning back majority control they lost in 2006, seeing potential gains in Ohio, Michigan, New York and Arkansas.
Obama last came to this northeastern Ohio county in 2008 for a campaign speech on the economy at a drywall factory that closed two months later. En route Friday to a wind turbine plant, his motorcade whizzed by a snowy landscape of scores of buildings either for lease or sale.
Obama told his audience at the Lorain County Community College “the worst of this economic storm has passed. But families like yours and communities like Elyria are still reeling from the devastation left in its wake. Folks have seen jobs you thought would last forever disappear.”
He said a new stimulus spending bill emerging in Congress — the White House is calling it a “jobs” bill — must include tax breaks for small business hiring and for people trying to make their homes more energy efficient — two proposals he wasn’t able to get into a bill the House passed last month
With the town hall meeting, tours of a wind turbine plant and classroom, an impromptu diner stop and even the lack of a necktie, Obama’s day had the feel of one from his campaign.
Outside the town hall meeting were groups of anti-Obama protesters. “He’s done a lot, but they are all negative things,” said Ray Angell, 65, of Twinsburg, Ohio, a conservative active in the anti-tax Tea Party movement. He cited the stimulus package and climate change proposals.
In an interview with ABC News this week, a reflective Obama said that he recognized “remoteness and detachment” had set in and that he blamed himself for not communicating better. “I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people,” he said.
Doug Schoen, a Democratic consultant who was President Bill Clinton’s pollster, said Obama should take a cue from his former boss.
“He absolutely has to move to the center,” Schoen said, “change his focus, try to reach out to the Republicans and try to change his rhetorical approach as well as the way he governs.”