In Ohio, Barack and Michelle Obama try to rally the faithful.

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Oct. 18 2010 10:57 AM

Buckeye Buck-Up

In Ohio, Barack and Michelle Obama try to rally the faithful.

US President Barack Obama listens as First Lady Michelle Obama at a rally in Columbus, Ohio. Click image to expand.
President Obama and Michelle at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, Sunday

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Two days before Election Day in 2008, Michelle Obama bragged about her husband to a crowd here of 60,000. "Barack has built one of the most powerful political organizations, recruiting millions of folks from all different kind of backgrounds. … He has built one of the most powerful political fundraising machines. ... Barack has helped to unify a party that some said could not be unified." He was "more than ready to be the next president of the United States."

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Now that he is president, is the machine ready? That was the question Sunday night as Michelle Obama returned to Columbus with her husband for their first campaign rally since they were here two years ago.

The machine sure looked ready. Some 35,000 people stood at the center of Ohio State University in the cool clear night. "O-H," said the first lady when she stepped up to the microphone. "I-O," responded the crowd like it was at a sporting event. "That's very cool," she said, impressed with her ability to get the crowd to react so quickly and loudly.

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If only Democratic voters would respond so faithfully. The party will need this kind of organizational triumph on Election Day to rescue the two key races in the state, neither of which is looking good. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland is behind Republican John Kasich by an average of six points in the polls. In the race for the U.S. Senate, Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher trails former Rep. Rob Portman by an average of 18 points.

The evening wasn't just about Ohio, though. Democrats hope that a show of force here will inspire their voters all over the country to go to the polls in an election where conservatives are highly motivated. The crowd was blasted with light. The event was made for broadcast. A boom camera streamed the event live to the Internet.

Michelle Obama was there to build up her husband, not attack his opponents. By adding her to the event, organizers hoped to rekindle the spirit of two years ago, particularly among first-time college voters. "So tell me something, Ohio. If you are still as fired up and ready to go as you were two years ago, then I know that we can keep bringing about the change that I know, that we all know, we can keep that American Dream alive," she said.

Meanwhile in California, Sarah Palin used the first lady's return to the campaign trail to revive another part of the 2008 campaign. In a rally in San Jose on Thursday, Palin said, "You know, when I hear people say, or had said during the campaign that they've never been proud of America, haven't they met anybody in uniform yet?" As first lady, Michelle Obama has tried to be an advocate for military families. But Palin was referring to Michelle Obama's statement in 2008 that for the first time she was "proud" of her country. (Later Mrs. Obama clarified her remarks to say what she was proud of was the level of political engagement, which was like never before.)

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