COLUMBUS President Barack Obama sought to recapture the magic of his 2008 campaign, holding a large open-air rally in Ohio to help struggling Democratic candidates in the Midwestern state.
Amid voter anger over the sluggish economy and 9.6 percent unemployment, Obama's Democrats are fighting to avoid steep losses in the Congress and in state governors' races in the November 2 elections.
"Everybody said 'No, you can't' and in 2008 you showed them, 'Yes, we can,'" Obama told a cheering crowd of 35,000 people at Ohio State University in Columbus.
In a hoarse voice, he accused Republicans of siding with "special interests" like insurance companies and Wall Street banks.
But he acknowledged Democrats faced a tough fight.
"Let's be honest: This is a difficult election," he said.
Nationally, Democrats are at risk of losing one or both houses of the U.S. Congress, which would make it much harder for Obama to pursue priorities such as passing legislation to fight climate change and boost infrastructure spending.
In Ohio, Democratic Senate candidate Lee Fisher is trailing Republican hopeful Rob Portman by double digits. Incumbent Governor Ted Strickland is facing a difficult re-election bid against Republican John Kasich, who holds a lead of about 6 points over Strickland.
In addition to being important for Democrats in congressional races and the campaign for governor this year, Ohio will be a crucial swing state for Obama when he runs for re-election in 2012. He carried the state in 2008 against Republican John McCain.
Joining Obama on the campaign trail for the first time since his presidential race two years ago was his wife, Michelle.
Obama told the Ohio rally that voters faced a choice in the upcoming election between moving forward or returning to Republican policies that he said caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Obama did not mention his predecessor, President George W. Bush by name, but he reminded voters of the dire economy he inherited when he took office in January 2009.
Obama said the Republicans didn't decide to go off "into the desert" to meditate and rethink their ideas.
Republicans, he said, would loosen regulations for "insurance companies that want to drop your coverage when you get sick, or credit card companies that want to jack up your rates or Wall Street banks that are dealing in all kinds of derivatives that end up crashing the market."
The joint appearance by both Obamas and the large size of the crowd, which included many young people, recalled the energy of Obama's presidential campaign.
"Can we do this?" Michelle Obama asked the crowd. "Are you fired up and ready to go?"
"Yes we can," the crowded chanted.
(Writing by Caren Bohan; Editing by Stacey Joyce)