Ohio State’s Oval was barricaded by metal fences Tuesday that caged in bleachers, a banner reading “Vote Early,” and in the center, a lectern that sat waiting for President Barack Obama.
Obama returned to Central Ohio for a grassroots campaign rally Tuesday, the last day to register to vote in Ohio. His speech began at about 5:10 p.m., and he spoke for about 20 minutes.
In his remarks, Obama focused on the importance of education, calling it the “gateway of opportunity.”
“I believe that we should have the best education system in the world, bar none,” Obama said. “I got a great education because that’s what this country does.”
Obama said he has a plan for education reform.
“(I want to) recruit 100,000 new math and science teachers, focus on early childhood education, provide job training for 2 million workers at our community colleges, (and) cut the growth of tuition costs in half so that you guys are not loaded up with debt when you graduate,” Obama said.
Special guest will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas took the stage at about 4:30, DJing for the estimated crowd of 15,000, which he referred to as “Buckeye Peas.” He performed for about a half-hour and talked about the importance of education during a version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA.”
The estimated 15,000 attendees surpassed the 14,000-person crowd at the Schottenstein Center in May when Obama kicked off his re-election campaign.
Throughout his speech, when Obama mentioned Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, he was met with boos from the crowd. Obama, though, told the crowd not to boo, but to vote.
“If you buy into the cynicism that says change isn’t possible,” Obama said, “if you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices fill the void.”
Obama also said he would not raise taxes for the middle class or cut taxes for millionaires as he said Romney would, emphasizing how this would also impact students.
“I refuse to ask middle-class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut. I refuse to pay for that tax cut by asking you, students, to pay more for college,” Obama said.
Some classes scheduled to be held during the rally were canceled, while other professors kept their classes as scheduled.
Niraj Antani, communications director of the OSU College Republicans, said he thinks canceled classes and rescheduled midterms for a partisan event are “frankly unacceptable.”
“Students who don’t necessarily agree with what he’s saying and have their classes canceled deserve to be compensated,” Antani said.
Mallory Kimble, president of the OSU College Democrats, said students could view the rally as a learning experience.
“Either way you look at it, it’s part of the learning experience to come see the president of the United States talk,” Kimble said.
First-year in nursing Nikki Behm said she didn’t mind missing class to attend the rally.
“I had a midterm review, but I still didn’t think it was a big deal,” Behm said.
Other students agreed Obama’s visit was a chance they couldn’t pass up.
“I support Obama,” said Julia Konieczny, a second-year in political science and communication. “He’s here, you can’t let these opportunities go by. That why you go to OSU, for stuff like this.”
Konieczny said she was in line before noon. “When Obama was in Wisconsin, there were 30,000 people on the lawn. I didn’t want to be one of the ones in the back.”
Not everyone who attended the rally backed the president, but some non-supporters still supported his message of the importance of voting.
Maggie Wollen from Gahanna, Ohio, campaigned against abortion at the event and carried a large poster with a image of a 10-week-old aborted fetus.
“Obviously, I don’t support Obama, but I like the fact that these people I know are going to go vote,” Wollen said. “It’s nice to see that they’re passionate about this election. Hopefully our side, the Republican side, will be just as passionate.”
Obama last visited Central Ohio less than a month ago for a campaign stop at Schiller Park in German Village Sept. 17. Romney was last in Columbus Sept. 26, when he visited Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio just about 20 minutes north of Columbus.
Romney held a rally Tuesday in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, just outside of Akron, and is scheduled to visit Lancaster, Ohio, about 40 minutes from Columbus, on Friday.
Centre College in Danville, Ky., will be hosting a vice presidential debate at 8 p.m. Thursday between Vice President Joe Biden and Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan.
Romney has not yet visited OSU, but his son Craig Romney was on campus Saturday.
Tuesday’s visit to the Oval was Obama’s fifth to OSU in two years.
Results of a Tuesday seven-day rolling Gallup poll have Obama in the lead among registered voters with 49 percent, and Romney trailing at 46 percent with less than a month until the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Obama’s remarks were preceded by short speeches from Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, former Ohio Sen. John Glenn and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Following the rally, charter busses were available to transport people, accompanied by will.i.am, to and from an early voting location.
“I need you fired up. I need you ready to go to vote. Because we’ve got some work to do,” Obama said.
Becca Marrie and Ben Keith contributed to this story.