By THOMAS J. SHEERAN
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama campaigned on opposite ends of the battleground state of Ohio as the final weekend of stumping in the 2012 presidential race kicked off Saturday.
GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan also campaigned in the state, with plans to continue Sunday, along with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. President Obama also planned a Sunday stop in Cincinnati.
Obama visited Saturday with voters in an overflow room before his main speech in Mentor east of Cleveland and told supporters to shepherd their friends, neighbors and girlfriends to the polls to vote early.
He tacked on this very practical caveat: “You should convince them to vote for me before you drag them off to the polls.”
Peaceful protesters in groups of three and four stood in cold, rainy weather along the main road leading to the president’s appearance at Mentor High School northeast of Cleveland. The presidential motorcade entered through another roadway.
The protesters held signs slamming Obama on issues including gasoline prices, the military and abortion.
Retired business owner Mike Coleman, 69, of nearby North Perry, held a sign criticizing administration statements on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. He said he wants a commander in chief who will provide quick help to Americans in distress.
“I want someone who won’t leave them stranded, bend over backwards, go full bore if they need help if they are in trouble,” Coleman said.
Tim Powell, of Leesburg, Va., walking with a protester wearing an oil can outfit, said he was trying to educate voters about high energy costs.
“You can’t shut down every source of finding energy in the United States, then expect prices to remain stable,” Powell said.
He had other props, including a banner with the photos of three presidents and comparative gasoline prices: Bill Clinton $1.46, George W. Bush $1.84 and Obama $3.72. “Any questions?” the banner asked.
The first lady campaigned at Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s alma mater, Miami University, in Oxford in southwestern Ohio.
“Well, I’m feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself, because in just three days we have the opportunity to re-elect an honest, decent man,” she said.
She highlighted the president’s work in office, including the auto bailout, health care overhaul, ending the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden and cutting taxes for small businesses.
“Teachers and firefighters shouldn’t be paying higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires,” she yelled to applause.
The first lady repeated the speech Saturday night at Kenyon College in Gambier in eastern Ohio. The college is an important footnote in battleground Ohio’s political history: Eight years ago, a problem with Gambier voting machines created the nation’s longest voting lines on election night, with many students and residents waiting until well past midnight to vote.
Michelle Obama played to the college crowd, encouraging them to consider a strategic change to their weekend plans.
“If you’ve got any dates planned, bring them to the campaign office,” she said to applause. “Do something real clever like that.”
One Kenyon student, Westchester, N.Y., resident Amy Morgan, said she had voted Friday.
“I early voted, in Ohio, because it’s a swing state,” said Morgan, 20, a junior biology major.
Ryan campaigned in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he took issue with Obama’s comment to supporters that voting would be their “best revenge.”
“We don’t believe in revenge; we believe in change and hope,” Ryan said in Marietta in southeast Ohio. “We actually do.”
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced that as of Friday, more than 1.6 million Ohioans have already voted, including 1.1 million by absentee ballot and almost 500,000 at early voting centers.
Associated Press writers Amanda Lee Myers in Oxford and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Gambier contributed to this report.