COLUMBUS - President Barack Obama had a message for Ohio’s undecided, working-class voters considering a vote for Republican Donald Trump: “Don’t be bamboozled.”
“He says he’ll be his own foreign policy adviser because he says he has a good brain. Who talks like that?” Obama asked an estimated 5,800 people at Capital University Tuesday. “We can’t afford a president whose brain has suggested that we would torture people again or ban entire religions from our country."
Obama sidestepped any overt discussion of Democrat Hillary Clinton's emails, which have dominated news cycles since Friday. That's when FBI Director James Comey told Congress he would review emails, apparently on a staffer's laptop, which could be related to the probe into her private email server as Obama's secretary of state.
"Has she made mistakes? Of course. So have I," Obama said. "There is nobody in the public arena over the course of 30 years that doesn’t."
Obama was walking a tightrope between criticizing Comey – something his press secretary said he wouldn't do – and defending Clinton, his party's nominee and his endorsed choice to succeed him. The race in Ohio remains tight, with Trump having a slight edge in a couple recent polls.
The emails in question stemmed from an investigation into Clinton aide Huma Abedin's estranged husband, former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.
Republicans and Trump have cheered Comey's move and warned it could lead to criminal charges. For the first time in weeks, the focus shifted from Trump's scandals to Clinton's. Democrats, suddenly on the defense, insisted Comey had overstepped his bounds and violated policies and law on not influencing the results of elections. Even the Justice Department, which reports to Obama, made known its opposition to Comey's move.
"I know they’ll reach the same conclusion they reached when they looked at my emails last year," Clinton said at a Monday rally in Cincinnati's Smale Riverfront Park.
On Tuesday, the president sought to stay above that fray. He did suggest, however, Clinton might be getting undue scrutiny because of her gender.
“Hillary Clinton is consistently treated differently than just about any candidate I see out there,” he said.
Obama told Ohioans that voting was as easy as picking up a free taco – an unrelated promotion Taco Bell is offering nationally because Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor stole second base during the World Series.
"If you can find the time to go get a free taco, then you can find the time to vote," he said.
Obama won Ohio in 2008 and 2012 thanks to a coalition of young, urban and African American voters. To win the swing state, Clinton needs those same voters to pick her. But voters, and especially young voters, are less enthusiastic about their choices this year. Nearly one in four in a national poll said they would rather see a giant meteor hit Earth than vote for Clinton or Trump.
“Even the Campaigner-in-Chief Barack Obama can't breathe enthusiasm into Hillary Clinton's depressed Democrat base in Ohio, which has been demoralized during early voting by the reopening of the FBI investigation into her possible criminal conduct,” Trump’s Ohio spokesman, Seth Unger, said in a statement.
Alex Klemens, a first-year student studying political science at Capital University, was one such millennial voter. She attended Obama's rally more out of obligation – how many times does the president stop at your university? She doesn't plan to vote, because she is disappointed with both major party's candidates.
“I would rather not vote because I feel bullied into voting for one because the other is bad," Klemens said.
On the other side of the field house, Anna Vogel, 24, has spent hours canvassing for Clinton with her mother, Jane Henderson. They live in Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, where finding a Donald Trump supporter can be a challenge. They were at a loss for why the presidential race in Ohio was so close.
“We live in a bubble here. There are a lot of Hillary signs in our neighborhood,” Henderson said.
They aren't concerned about any investigation into Clinton's emails. Their friend, Cathi DuPuy, of Columbus, said Comey shouldn't be vilified for doing his job.
“That guy was between a rock and a hard place. I think he had to do it,” she said.