CLEVELAND -- Staring down the prospect of big losses in both the House and Senate Tuesday, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made one last impassioned appeal to the party's base Sunday, warning supporters that if Democrats don't turn out in big numbers Tuesday, the progress of the last two years will be lost.
Obama repeated a line he has employed in just about every stump speech he has given over the past month, acknowledging that Democrats face an uphill battle Tuesday. "Cleveland, there is no doubt that this is a difficult election," Obama said.
"The Republican leader of the Senate said that his main goal over the next two years is to beat me in the next election," Obama told the crowd. "The only way to fight that kind of politics, to match the millions of dollars in negative ads that have been pouring down using these phony front groups; the only way to fight it is millions of voices that are ready to finish what we started in 2008."
"We've got to get Cleveland out to vote. We've got to get everybody in Ohio out to vote," said the president, who urged those in attendance to head to a nearby early voting station after the rally and cast a ballot if they hadn't done so already.
The stop at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center drew an estimated 8,000 supporters, but a few thousand seats in the upper reaches of the arena, which holds just over 13,000 people, were noticeably empty.
The assembled crowd also contained many young and African-American voters, who formed a key part of Obama's base two years ago, but polls show are much less likely to turn out in similar numbers Tuesday.
Sunday's event was another in a series of DNC-sponsored "Moving America Forward" rallies, billed as "rally the troops" events aimed at ginning up enthusiasm among a mostly dispirited Democratic base.
Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and Betty Sutton (Ohio) were among the members who attended Sunday's rally. Embattled Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio) was not in attendance Sunday given the birth of his child Saturday, but Obama alluded to his reelection contest and called him "one of my favorite members of Congress."
The president's final pitch to voters before Tuesday comes after hitting three states Saturday in a last-ditch effort to motivate the base. Obama rallied Democrats in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and at an outdoor rally in Chicago on Saturday.
"Just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom," Obama told the crowd assembled Saturday in Chicago. "The kind that says you can’t overcome cynicism in politics, you can’t overcome the special interests, you can’t overcome the big money, you can’t overcome all the negativity, you can’t overcome the big challenges anymore, you can’t elect a skinny guy with a funny name to the U.S. Senate or the presidency."
Protesters once again interrupted Obama's speech, but their shouts were drowned out by the crowd and they were quickly removed from the arena. The president paused briefly but did not acknowledge them. On Saturday, he fired back at the demonstrators clammoring for more AIDS funding who have appeared regularly at his campaign events.
At a rally in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday, former President Bill Clinton brushed away concerns over the enthusiasm gap at the same time he tacitly acknowledged it by running off a list of midterm election realities that he said if voters were aware of ahead of this fall, they would be turning out in droves.
Clinton called the 2010 midterms "the most fact-free" election he's ever been a part of and told the crowd, "We are coming back. Don't put us at risk."
He touted legislation passed by Congress along with the healthcare bill in March that reworked the student loan system, ending subsidies to private banks. Clinton lauded the measure as a much needed investment that will help tens of thousands of students and families pay for college.
The former president said that if young voters were tuned in this fall and fully aware that a new Republican majority will likely be gunning to repeal that aid, thousands more young voters would show up at the polls next week and "everyone up here would win on Tuesday."
Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), the man poised to be the next Speaker of the House should Republicans take control Tuesday, are once again foils in the final hours of the 2010 campaign, with the Republican campaigning throughout Ohio over the past two days.
"If you're tired of the government takeover of virtually everything in America, and if you're tired of Obamacare," Boehner said at a rally for Republican congressional hopeful Jim Renacci on Saturday afternoon. "That's what elections are for."
Aside from the key congressional contests taking place in this state Tuesday, the White House also sees Ohio as one of the states that is key to the president's reelection prospects in 2012. The national party has focused heavily on the race for governor in Ohio and has a candidate in Gov. Ted Strickland who has not run from Obama.
"A few hours before this critical election, the vice president and the president of the United States have come to Cleveland, to Ohio and we are grateful," Strickland said at Sunday's rally.
While former Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) leads in the polls, a Strickland victory Tuesday would be big for the president, not just because the Democrat gambled on a full embrace of Obama in a swing state, but because having a Democrat in the governor's office means the party will have a leg up when it comes to organizing a ground operation in the state for 2012.