By Karen Tumulty
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 10:19 PM
COLUMBUS, OHIO - Sharing a campaign stage for the first time since the presidential campaign two years ago, Barack 0and Michelle Obama tried to rekindle the magic of 2008, with the president pleading for supporters to "keep believing."
"Let's be honest. This is a difficult election," he told a crowd Sunday evening at Ohio State University that campus police estimated to number 35,000. But he warned that if Democrats don't prevail in the Nov. 2 midterm elections, Republicans will try to roll back his major achievements, including health-care reform and new financial regulations.
"Ohio, it is up to you to tell them we don't want what they are selling," he said. "We have been there before and we are not going back."
In double-teaming a campaign swing, the Obamas were betting that their combined star power might give an additional boost to dispirited Democrats. The "enthusiasm gap" between the two parties is a worrisome trend for Democrats facing the prospect of losing control of one or both chambers of Congress.
Obama's speech contained echoes of the one he gave in this city two days before the 2008 election, when he declared to cheering thousands: "We can change this country. Yes, we can." And the crowd did indeed break into that familiar chant.
But as Obama acknowledged earlier at a fundraiser near Cleveland, the mood among Democrats two years later is very different, in no small part because "there are families out there still hanging on a thread" in the troubled economy.
"I know it's a long time since election night two years ago and Inauguration Day, and BeyoncÃ© singing and Bono," he said. ". . . I know that there are times where probably it's hard to recapture that sense of possibility. It's hard sometimes to say, 'Yes, we can.' You start thinking, 'Well, maybe. I don't know.' It's not as inspiring a slogan."
The visit to Ohio, Obama's 11th as president, comes at a moment when the outlook for his party in this quintessential swing state appears dire.
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who is seeking reelection, was eight percentage points behind former Republican congressman John Kasich in the latest Ohio Poll, sponsored by the University of Cincinnati. And in their bid for the state's open Senate seat, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, a Democrat, trailed former congressman Rob Portman, a Republican, by a seemingly insurmountable 22 points.
The state also presents Republicans an opportunity to pick up a handful of seats in the House.
Most in jeopardy are three Democratic lawmakers elected to Republican-leaning districts in 2008, when Obama carried the state by almost five percentage points over the GOP nominee. All three freshmen lawmakers - Steve Driehaus, Mary Jo Kilroy and John Boccieri - supported Obama's effort to overhaul the health-care system, which has not proved popular in districts such as theirs.
Meanwhile, yet another Ohio congressman - Republican House Minority Leader John A. Boehner - is in line to become House speaker if his party picks up 40 seats.