PARMA, Ohio — President Obama brought the big guns — Bubba and the Boss — to Ohio Thursday to shore up his slim edge in the key battleground state.

Former President Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen spoke — and in one case sang — before a crowd of 3,000 in a gymnasium at Cuyahoga Community College just outside Cleveland, with 700 more in an overflow area.

It was a far cry from 2008, when 80,000 attended a downtown rally for Obama with Springsteen on the eve of the election. But there’s still time for that kind of mass event — Thursday’s gathering was a more intimate affair.

It was Springsteen’s first event of this election cycle for Obama, after indicating that he would likely not get involved in this year’s campaign. After stumping for John Kerry in 2004 as well, Springsteen had said he did not want to be a “professional campaigner.”

But following up on a lengthy and emphatic statement posted to his Web site Wednesday night, Springsteen told the Ohio crowd that he'd spent three decades “writing about the distance between the American dream and the American reality” and that he believed Obama represented a better choice to close the gap between them.

“Our vote, our vote, is the principle way we get to determine that distance and that equation,” he said. “Voting matters. Elections matter.”

Springsteen said he appreciated passage of universal health care, and he is concerned about women’s rights and the continued disparity between the rich and poor. He said he was campaigning because GM is still making cars — a reference to Obama’s support for government assistance for the auto industry.

“What else would I write about? I’d have no job without that,” he joked.

He called Obama’s election night four years ago a time when the doors of history were ”blown open.” But, he added, “I’m here today because I’ve lived long enough to know that despite those galvanizing moments in history, the future is rarely a tide that rushing in.”

“It’s often slow march, inch by inch, day after long day. I believe we are in the midst of those long days right now. And I’m here because I believe President Obama feels those days in his bones — for all 100 percent.”

In the statement, Springsteen also noted his support for Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), running for reelection, and Elizabeth Warren, challenging Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

Springsteen played several of his biggest hits, including “We Take Care of Our Own,” a regular feature of Obama rallies, and led the crowd in a sing-along of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

Springsteen will also play an event for Obama later Thursday in Iowa, as Clinton goes on to a rally in Steubensville, Ohio.

Clinton, who took the stage before Springsteen, joking he was qualified to be his warm-up act because he was “born in the U.S.A," accused Romney of playing “hide and seek” with his tax plan and his budget.

He implored Ohio supporters to find undecided voters and talk about the progress of the past four years.

“He knows that it’s not fixed. The question is which path will fix it,” Clinton said.

And, in Ohio especially, Clinton said the critical battleground state should vote on the basis of the auto bailout.

“I love Ohio. It’s an old school place. We like our families, we like our communities, we value personal loyalty. When you were down, you were out and your whole economy was threatened, the president had your back. You’ve got to have his back too,” he said.