Obama alternated between touting Clinton's qualities and slamming Trump's qualifications and temperament.
“She doesn't quit, and she doesn't make excuses. And by the way, isn't that what you want from a president?” he asked as Clinton supporters waving “Stronger together” and “Love trumps hate” signs basked in the fall sunshine.
“You know, I notice her opponent — he seems to be in the middle of the game, making excuses all the time for why he might be losing,” Obama continued, prompting laughter. “And it's always interesting to me to see folks who talk tough but then don't act tough. Because if you're tough, you don't make excuses. You don't start complaining about the refs before the game is even done. You just play the game, right?”
“And if you want a leader who actually values hard work and respects working Americans, if you want higher wages, and better benefits, and a fair tax code, and equal pay for women, and stronger regulations on Wall Street, then you should vote for Hillary Clinton,” he said.
The president also questioned Trump's recent suggestion that a global elite composed of bankers and financiers is working to undermine his candidacy.
“This is a guy who spent all his time hanging around, trying to convince everybody he was a global elite,” he said, prompting laughter. “Talking about how great his buildings are, how luxurious, and how rich he is, and flying around everywhere. All he had time for was celebrities. And now suddenly he’s acting like he’s a populist out there — ‘Man, I’m going to fight for working people.’ Come on, man.”
Picking up a theme that he invoked at a Democratic Party fundraiser Thursday night, Obama suggested that the Republican Party had fueled Trump's rise by catering to its base.
“And a lot of Republican elected officials have just stood by,” Obama said. “A lot of House members, a lot of senators, they stood by and they didn’t say anything, because it was a way to rile up their base and it was a way to mount opposition to whatever we were trying to do. And over time, because a lot of the hardcore Republican partisan voters were just hearing this stuff over and over again, they started to believe it. And that’s what allowed Donald Trump suddenly to emerge. Donald Trump didn’t build all this crazy conspiracy stuff.”
But Obama focused more of his time on detailing the policy changes he had championed — on health care, the economy, same-sex marriage and other issues — to suggest rally attendees needed to make a greater investment in electing Clinton.
“I have to tell you, all that progress goes out the window if we don't make the right choice, right now,” he said.
One of the primary goals of the event was to recruit new volunteers in the final weeks of the campaign. Clinton volunteers collected contact information as people walked through the gates. Chris Wyant, Clinton's Ohio state director, said in an interview Thursday that after supporters left rallies headlined by Obama, “they’re leaving more motivated, they’re leaving more likely to be a part of this campaign.”
“I know everybody here is early-voting,” Obama said. “Because otherwise, you wouldn't be here.”
Trump has gathered significant support in Ohio, and a heckler who interrupted the president near the beginning of the speech served as a powerful reminder of that fact.
One man started chanting, “Bill Clinton’s a rapist! Bill Clinton’s a rapist!” before opening his jacket to display a T-shirt that featured Bill Clinton's image and the word “RAPE.”
First Obama invited the crowd to chant “Hill-a-ry!” repeatedly, in an effort to drown him out, and then he suggested he go elsewhere.
Noting it's been happening “everywhere,” he added: “I keep telling folks. You've got to organize your own rallies! That's a better way to spend your time, unless you're just being paid to be here, in which case, hey, everybody's got to make a living.”
Many of the men and women who came to Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport were enthusiastic backers of Clinton. Lalana Janlekha-Green, who owns a manufacturing company and lives in Shaker Heights, said she plans to drive voters from a less-wealthy neighborhood in Cleveland to the polls.
“I have to do what I can to get their voices heard,” she said, adding that Clinton's vision of America is one she can embrace because she moved to the United States from Thailand more than four decades ago.
“I am an immigrant. I am a woman. I am not white. I am not Christian,” Janlekha-Green said. “I think the strength of America is in the diversity of people coming here, like me.”
Some attendees were not entirely sold. Blair Pitcairn, who is 25 and makes ice cream at a local company named Mitchell's, is a supporter of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. He came with the store's assistant manager, Meghan Marrone, a Clinton backer, but said he still intended to vote for a third party.
“I don't think I'm swayed to vote for Hillary, but I'm more open to thinking she'll be a better president than I thought,” he said, adding he prefers Johnson's less interventionist foreign policy and his push for marijuana legalization and criminal-justice reform.