FAIRFAX, Va. — What a difference a Labor Department report with a 7.8 percent unemployment rate makes.
Or, what a shock to the system Wednesday night was for the Obama camp.
Whatever the impetus, President Obama showed up to a rally here on Friday morning hyped up, in attack mode, and primed with the lines that were absent — to the chagrin of diehard Democrats and the befuddlement of others — from this week’s disastrous debate versus Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“This morning, we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office,” he proudly declared after taking the stage 20 minutes past schedule, bringing the crowd jumping to its feet. “…Today’s news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points. It’s a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now.”
Risers full of women were carefully assembled behind the president, getting a pep talk from staffers and pitching blue “Forward” signs when Obama came on. Someone in the audience blew bubbles in the air as the crowd cheered wildly for their candidate. The national anthem was performed by Mary Millben, promoted as an “active member of Republicans for Obama.” The president was introduced by Katherine Waddell, a former Virginia House delegate and independent who said that the GOP had moved too far to the right for her to stay active in the party.
“There’s just no room for me in today’s radical Republican Party,” Waddell said, calling the GOP “so far to the extreme right, especially when it comes to women’s health, I don’t recognize it anymore.”
The rally was billed as a grass-roots women’s event, but current events altered the focus a bit: namely, the bad debate and the better jobs report, for which Obama was taking his first victory lap.
Equipped with his trusty teleprompter and facing an enthusiastic crowd rather than his Republican opponent and sleepy Jim Lehrer, Obama’s claws also came out.
“My opponent, you know, has been trying to do a two-step and reposition and got an extreme makeover,” Obama said. “…He thinks that if we just spend another $5 trillion on tax cuts, that, yes, skew towards the wealthiest, if we get rid of more regulations on Wall Street, then our problems will be solved. Jobs and prosperity will rain down from the sky, the deficits will magically disappear, we will live happily ever after.”
Then the president veered to the Democrats’ — and Twitter’s — main takeaway from the first debate.
“When he was asked what he’d actually do to cut spending and reduce the deficit, his big example was to go after public television,” Obama said. “So for all you moms and kids out there, don’t worry, somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. Rounding him up. Elmo’s got to watch out, too.”
“Governor Romney plans to let Wall Street run wild again, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on Sesame Street. It makes perfect sense.”
The Obama campaign alerted reporters to keep an eye out for Big Bird at Romney’s rally in Abingdon, Va., today. Sure enough, someone in a fuzzy yellow bird suit was pitching a sign reading “crack down on Wall Street, not Sesame Street” outside Romney’s event in the rural southwestern corner of the state.
“The other night, he said he’d repeal Obamacare as soon as he took office. Don’t boo. Vote. Vote. Vote,” Obama continued against Romney. “But after he said that, then he back-tracked and said, ‘No, wait, at least I’ll make sure to cover folks with preexisting conditions.’ And then I — I explained, well, actually, your plan doesn’t do that. And then his campaign had to come out and say, ‘Actually, that’s not true; our plan wouldn’t do that.’ So, Governor Romney was fact-checked by his own campaign. That’s rough. That’s rough.”
“Governor Romney said he’d get rid of Planned Parenthood funding. Apparently, this, along with Big Bird, is driving the deficit. … My opponent has called himself severely conservative, but let me tell you something, there’s nothing conservative about a government that prevents a woman from making her own health care decisions.”
“Governor Romney talks about freedom, but freedom is the ability to determine the care you need when you need it. Freedom is the ability to change jobs or start your own business without the fear of losing your health insurance. Freedom is the knowledge that you’ll no longer be charged more than men for the same health care, or denied affordable coverage just because you’ve beat cancer,” Obama continued.
The president dropped the magic number that mysteriously was missing from his debate arguments, infuriating supporters who wanted him to use the undercover video of a donor’s meeting against Romney.
Change, Obama said, “certainly can’t happen if you’re willing to write off half the nation before you even take office.”
“Now, people forget back in 2008, 47 percent of the country didn’t vote for me, but on the night of the election I said to all those Americans, I said, ‘I may not have one your vote, but I hear your voices. And I need your help. And I will be your president too,’” Obama continued. “And, Virginia I don’t know how many of you will vote for me this time around, but I promise you, no matter how many do, I will be your president too.”
The president wrapped up to Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America,” a song often heard at Romney-Ryan rallies.
Romney hit at the new jobs report in his own Virginia stop.
“There was a report that just came out this morning on job creation this last month. There were fewer new jobs created this month than last month,” he said. “And the unemployment rate, as you know, this year has come down very, very slowly. But it’s come down nonetheless. The reason it’s come down this year is primarily due to the fact that more and more people have just stopped looking for work.”
Romney said the real unemployment rate should be 11 percent, by figuring the same workforce participation as the day the president was elected. A release from the Senate Republican Policy Committee said the real unemployment rate, including marginally attached workers and those who can only find part-time work, should be 14.7 percent for September.
“I’ll tell you this: When I’m president of the United States, that unemployment rate is going to come down, not because people are giving up and dropping out of the workforce, but because we’re creating more jobs,” Romney said.
Obama holds a razor-thin lead over Romney — 0.4 — in this state in the Real Clear Politics polling average. A Rasmussen Reports poll out yesterday had Romney up by one point over the incumbent in the commonwealth.
It was Obama’s 17th campaign stop in Virginia this year, far outpacing the six official events he’s had in this D.C. bedroom state in 2012.
But it wasn’t just a rally to pep a commander in chief’s spirits after a lackluster week. The presidential race in Virginia will likely be influenced by the turnout for the Senate race here, where two politicians with lengthy histories — who both stoke plenty of partisan feelings in the campaign — are battling to fill the seat left vacant by retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.).
Webb won the seat six years ago after the “macaca moment” of then-incumbent Sen. George Allen, who is taking another stab at the office versus former Virginia governor and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.
Unfortunately for Gov. Bob McDonnell, Kaine was introduced as Virginia Gov. Time Kaine this morning — minus the former.
“I love seeing a finish line,” Kaine gushed, adding, “Our nation, America, is turning the corner and moving forward.”
He noted local projects aided by stimulus funds — improvements on the Fairfax County Parkway, the rail project to Dulles International Airport — and devoted much of his speech on the George Mason University campus to education and Pell grants.
“Students and young people ought to be standing up for this president who stood up for them,” Kaine said.
And in the Romney needle-du-jour, he added, “You’re not going to win by firing Big Bird.”
Kaine devoted the end of his speech to his Senate challenger, criticizing Allen for trying to “dismiss” discussion on social issues and telling the crowd that Republican social issues are also economic ones.
“If we don’t’ embrace policies that help women, we harm the economy,” he said.
In a Rasmussen Reports poll released yesterday, Kaine was up 7 points on Allen. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Kaine up by 4.
It’s one of those races glazed by high partisan emotions that could inspire turnout to the polls, a critical factor in any swing state.
Allen issued a statement today on the September jobs report, criticizing a 30-year low in the labor participation rate.
“Like President Obama and Vice President Biden, Tim Kaine’s answer to nearly every challenge is to raise taxes,” Allen said. “While Vice President Biden cheers a $1 Trillion tax hike on hard-working Americans, Tim Kaine is open to raising taxes on everyone. More taxes will only result in more job losses.”
According to the university, the crowd was at the concert hall’s capacity of 1,935. Only a few empty seats were seen.
After shaking hands with the crowd for several minutes, Obama was out the door and over to Dulles to head to — you guessed it — Ohio.