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Posted on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:38 a.m.

Campaigner in chief: Obama address to Ann Arbor crowd sounded like stump speech

By Ryan J. Stanton


President Barack Obama was welcomed by a receptive crowd of cell phone-waving University Michigan students today in Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton |

(Related: Mega guide to the president's visit)

Despite assurances his visit to Ann Arbor wasn't a political event, but rather official White House business, Barack Obama surely played the role of campaigner in chief today.

But who could blame him?

The November election is a little more than nine months away, and the state of Michigan is politically critical to his re-election hopes.

It's no coincidence that so are the four other states he visited this week — Arizona, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada — on a three-day tour following his State of the Union address.

Obama is kicking his campaign into high gear, and he used Ann Arbor as a launch pad, knowing he needs to to carry Michigan.

Addressing a receptive crowd of about 4,000 — mostly students — at the University of Michigan, Obama wasted no time reminding all of the auto industry bailout. He said the federal government placed its bets on Detroit, and now the American auto industry is back.

"Michigan is all about making stuff," Obama said. "If there's anybody in America who can teach us about how to bring back manufacturing, it is the great state of Michigan."


State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, talks with Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum before the start of Obama's speech.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Asked before the event how political he thought Obama might get in his speech, state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, jokingly replied: "Six out of 10."

"It's a campaign year and I think we heard Michigan featured prominently in the State of the Union," Irwin said. "When he talked about the auto industry and the comeback here in Michigan, you know, that was I think a message to the voters in the upper Midwest that the president cares about manufacturing jobs, he cares about the economy here and, of course, there's a political angle to that message, but there's also a leadership angle to that message."

Obama has been on the road since Tuesday's State of the Union address in which he laid out a plan to rebuild America's economy by focusing on domestic oil and natural gas production, manufacturing, increased federal investment in clean energy and education.

The president has been building on those themes all week, and it's likely the message he'll continue to stress throughout his 2012 re-election campaign.

Speaking at U-M, Obama elaborated on the theme of college affordability. He skipped political attacks, but repeated that he's calling on Congress to support his agenda.

Several public officials, including U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, were on hand to hear his message, but notably absent was Rick Snyder. The Republican governor of Michigan was a no-show as Obama delivered his speech at Snyder's alma mater.

"We can't make it work," a Snyder spokeswoman told the Detroit Free Press on Thursday, acknowledging the governor received an invitation to meet with Obama.

According to the Free Press, Snyder was on hand just once over the last year as Obama made trips to Marquette, Holland, Detroit and Orion Township. Snyder was expected to speak at noon today at the Michigan Press Association's annual meeting in Grand Rapids.

Today's setting might not have been the most comfortable for Snyder anyway. Obama used his speech to criticize state budget cuts to higher education. He said 40 states across the nation, including Michigan, cut their higher education budgets in the last year.

"And we know that these state budget cuts have been the largest factor in tuition increases at public colleges over the past decade," Obama said. "So we're challenging states to take the responsibility as well on this issue. Today we're going to launch a Race to the Top for college affordability. We're telling the states if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we'll help you do it."

The timing couldn't be better for Democrats in the state Legislature who recently laid out an ambitious proposal to offer free college tuition to all Michigan high school graduates at no additional cost to taxpayers, potentially the first program of its kind in the country. Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer is now leveraging Obama's words.

"In his State of the Union, President Obama called on Congress to work together in a bipartisan fashion to make higher education and reducing student debt a priority, and we should do the same here in Michigan," Whitmer said in a statement prior to Obama's visit to Ann Arbor. "I urge Gov. Snyder and my Republican colleagues to support the Michigan 2020 Plan and join us in changing Michigan's economic landscape for the better forever."


Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje offered his thoughts before the start of Obama's speech: "I'm hoping he's going to say some stirring things and announce some programs that are going to help people get an education they can afford."

Ryan J. Stanton |

Democratic Party leaders in Michigan are hoping Obama's presence in the state gives a much-needed boost to Democrats who will be fighting to keep their seats this year.

The last time Obama visited Ann Arbor, in May 2010, Michigan was still for all intents and purposes a blue state. But the fact that every statewide elected office, including the governor's office, and both chambers of the Legislature are now Republican-controlled didn't change his tone today. He delivered a message to a receptive Ann Arbor audience, appealing to core Democratic values with a promise to fight for the middle class.

"We want a country where everybody has a chance," Obama said, bringing up the growing divide between the wealthy and the middle class in America and the fact that many millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle class households.

These are sure to be campaign themes, especially considering who's in line to be his GOP opponent in November.

Obama surely knows if the 2012 presidential race ends up being a contest between him and multimillionaire Mitt Romney, it's going to be a fierce battle for Michigan.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who already paid Ann Arbor a visit last May, is a Michigan native and son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, who was chairman and CEO of American Motors Corp. from 1954 to 1962 and governor from 1963 to 1969.

State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, was on hand for Obama's visit along with her husband, Conan Smith, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. Warren said Obama makes a good case for why his policies are helping Michigan.

"For us, the president has always remembered Michigan," Warren said. "He never turned his back on us. Even when times were tough, he's consistently sent resources here to bail out the auto industry and to invest in critical programs in Michigan, and we're here today to support that and to let him know that Michigan is recovering but we've still got more to do."

Warren, who has met Obama twice before, had a message for the president today: "Keep those checks coming, Mr. President. Michigan still needs your time and attention."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


average joe

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

(Rebekah)Warren, who has met Obama twice before, had a message for the president today: "Keep those checks coming, Mr. President. Michigan still needs your time and attention." Keep those checks coming? There's an insight into her political leadership.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

That's right, joe! Good call! To take it one step further, I will paraphrase her: "Don't take us off of the government teat, Mr. President, and we'll vote for you 'til the cows come home!" This is how those in power stay in power. They buy votes with our money. Democrats have perfected vote-buying to an art.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 6:10 a.m.

The crowd acted like a buch of teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 5 p.m.

...and that was just the members of the media.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

With roughly the same thought process...

Michael K.

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 5:40 a.m.

Analysis or opinion? Sounds more like the latter, just based on the headline alone.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 2:06 a.m.

"Democratic Party leaders in Michigan are hoping Obama's presence in the state gives a much-needed boost to Democrats who will be fighting to keep their seats this year." Obama coming here will do exactly the opposite, it will remind voters how this president has become a "one man wrecking crew" for the U.S. economy. Good Day


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 5:09 a.m.

...because, after all, who cares about the economy, as long as the Annointed One is re-annointed for a second term? That's all that really matters. The sea-level has got to start going down soon, and unemployment, and foreclosures, because he's the Annointed One. I can tell by the way he caught that fly once during an interview.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:11 a.m.

Except Obama is up in the polls over all the republicans running against him in Michigan by large numbers. That makes it a great day!


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11 p.m.

Obama is a great speaker. No doubt about it. But to me, he is no different than an elementary class president race when they are promising longer recesses, pizza every day, and free puppies for everyone in the class. "Put a bill on my desk tomorrow that says no one gets lower than a B on tests anymore. I'll sign it." The promises are so empty, they are boring to me. But what's fascinating is how many of you buy it all. Crazy. Both parties lie to you to get your vote. They play off each other to gain your unquestioning gullibility.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:09 a.m.

No, Paul only lies about his racist and bigoted newsletters.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

Ron Paul won't lie to get your vote. Like him or not, he's the real deal.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11 p.m.

Talk about jokes, Mitt flip flops on every issue. Then you have newt and his home wrecker wife that want to build condos on the moon. Real nice pair of republicans.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Did they come to Ann Arbor yesterday? or why bring them up?


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

Obama has been on the stump since he raised his hand ....running for office instead of running the country...


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.

jhammer, stop clouding the issue with facts.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:05 p.m.

hank, he had 2 years with no interference to do what he pleased. Problem is, he didn't bother leading at all - not even on health care. Now that he has an excuse, he can make whatever promise he wants to, and you will simply blame the other side. A great spot to be in, really.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 10:55 p.m.

How can he run the country the republicans are the filibuster kings. What a joke the republicans are.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

Sorry I missed the Three Stooges.... Mo..Bama Curly Levin..... Shemp Stabenow..... What a joke......all on the Federal Taxpayer's nickel...


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

Is that nickle what you make per hour?

Dog Guy

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

Obama failed to mention that he is going to force St. Joe's Hospital to close on August 1, 2013. U of M can buy the buildings and expand to monopoly. Go Blue!

John Q

Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 2:11 a.m.

Thank the Republicans for that. Remember Henry Hyde and the Hyde amendment forcing those who take federal funds to follow the political dictates of the anti-abortion crowd? Now the shoe is on the other foot and Republicans cry foul.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 12:58 a.m.

Dog Guy is referring to the fact that Obamacare will pull the Medicare / Medicaid plug on hospitals, employers and insurance plans that don't cover birth control, abortion, and other family planning services in 2013. Since St. Joe's /Trinity Health is two of those 3, and since they can't come close to breaking even without the government health coverage money, they must either compromise their Catholic principles, drastically restructure, or close.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

Completely missing where you are going with this... please explain


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

@hank: &quot; By the way Michigan's unemployment went back up again.&quot; I guess you and JonnyA2 will have to get into it, because his take on this about a month ago was: &quot;Actually eyeheart none of Ricks policies (business tax breaks) have been implemented yet. They start January 2012. &quot; of course that was in the article: &quot;Michigan's unemployment rate falls below 10% for first time in 3 years&quot; in response to my statement that: <a href=""></a> &quot;Just so we are all clear on this: When unemployment goes up, it is due to Rick and his failed policies. When it goes down. It is due to Obama and his stimulas or Jenny and what she put in place prior to departing.&quot; <a href=""></a> So, please carry on, you are following the scipt well. oh, by the way, what do you make of this article: <a href=""></a> So, first you need to get your facts straight, then follow the unemployment rules commenting rules, as described above. Or maybe things have changed due to Ricks meddling in the last 10 days or so? It's all so confusing.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 4:09 p.m.

Doh! Anyway, ole' hank is certainly proving how open minded he is, only reading posters he agrees with.


Sat, Jan 28, 2012 : 12:52 a.m.

@hank, but at least you read part of the one you just responded to :)


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.

I'm glad to see you read my posts ,I never read yours.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:51 p.m.

&quot;So vote republican and maybe you too can be the first on your block to lose your home.&quot; Except there's a Democrat at the helm right now, and how many people on your block have ALREADY lost their home?


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 11:21 p.m.

Isn't that funny... the auto bailout also started with Bush, but I don't see you (or Obama) giving him credit for that.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 10:51 p.m.

That was the work of George Bush and you know it.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

For the life of me how could Michigan begin to be in play for the republicans. They would elect Mitt or Newt over Obama. Mitt is one of the 1% that made millions putting people out of jobs and Newt wants poor kids to clean bathrooms for the schools. The auto companies have made a come back, the only bright spot for Michigan's economy and Mitt would have let them fail. By the way Michigan's unemployment went back up again. I see the tax breaks for the job creators is not working. So vote republican and maybe you too can be the first on your block to lose your home.


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 7:18 p.m.

Tell us Hank how the democrats will help us keep our homes? I am not surprised unemployment is going up and I think it is because we are not doing enough to attract business. Jobs are going to right to work states. Here you go: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

&quot;For the life of me how could Michigan begin to be in play for the republicans. They would elect Mitt or Newt over Obama.&quot; Actually I don't think Michigan will be electing anyone!


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

&quot;The auto companies have made a come back,&quot; How much does GM owe us? &quot;They would elect Mitt or Newt over Obama.&quot; They should elect ANYONE over Obama!


Fri, Jan 27, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

Thank you for being a sane voice around here.