By David Jesse and Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press –
DETROIT — President Barack Obama charmed two groups of Michigan friends Wednesday, praising their willingness to take a risk voting for him four years ago.
But, more than anything, he was courting their checks in a race to raise money from Michigan and across the country for the fall presidential campaign against presumed Republican presidential nominee — and Michigan native — Mitt Romney.
“When you decided to support a candidate named Barack Hussein Obama, you know it’s not going to be a sure thing,” he joked to a crowd of about 600 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
The audience’s biggest response, though, was to this line: “Osama bin Laden no longer walks the face of this earth. That’s what change is.”
Obama, as he and his campaign have done repeatedly in recent months, touted his rescue of Chrysler and General Motors his first year in office.
If Michigan, which hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1988, remains a presidential battleground state into the fall, it’s a theme Obama will repeat at every opportunity.
Obama was introduced by Jeff Klayo, a worker from Chrysler’s Sterling Stamping Plant who was laid off for six months before the rescue, but got his job back after government money kept the company alive.
“I’m truly honored to introduce the man who looks out for the little guy,” he said.
Obama didn’t come to Michigan to win their votes, though. He came to raise a target of $1 million this trip to help his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Romney had a fundraising advantage of $2 million to $1.6 million over Obama in the state through the end of February, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
“The last thing we can afford to do is to go back to the policies that got us in this mess in the first place,” Obama said. “That’s what other people running for this office want to do. They make no secret of it. I’ve got no doubt they love this country, but they are wrong.”
Even with the latest unemployment numbers released Wednesday showing Michigan’s jobless rate dropping to 8.5 percent, the economy is the top issue in Michigan and elsewhere. Obama said the decision voters make this year is critical.
“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class in this country,” he said.
In the most recent Michigan poll earlier this month, Obama led Romney, former Massachusetts governor, 47 percent to 43 percent, according to EPIC-MRA of Lansing.
Obama spoke on a stage facing several displays of American manufacturing, a setting he referenced often, saying he wants the U.S. to lead the world in making products, not just buying things made in other countries.
Those in attendance paid $250 to $5,000 to see, shake hands with or have a photo taken with Obama.
After the Dearborn fund-raiser, Obama headed to the Bingham Farms home of Denise Ilitch and her husband, Jim Scalici, where 47 people paid $10,000 to $40,000 to meet or have a private dinner with the president.
Among those in attendance were former Detroit Tigers outfielder Willie Horton, former Gov. James Blanchard, attorney Geoffrey Fieger and Jalen Rose, an ESPN commentator and former member of the University of Michigan’s Fab 5.
Obama told the group that at the Ford museum, he sat in the same bus made famous by civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks when she refused to give up her seat to a white rider.
“It gave me a moment to ponder the courage and tenacity,” of our very recent history, he said.
“We have a lot at stake in this election,” he said. “But we have the truth on our side.”
Ilitch, chairwoman of the University of Michigan Board of Regents, is the daughter of Mike and Marian Ilitch, who own the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings and Little Caesar s Pizza.
Obama came to Michigan from Ohio, where he met with students and gave a speech at Lorain County Community College. He headed back to Washington after leaving Michigan.