Obama pleads at rally: ‘I'm asking you to keep believing in me'

"Obama talks a lot about moving forward but has he forgotten he's been president for the past three years?" Priebus said in a statement. "He failed to change Washington as he promised and unlike 2008, he will have to answer for his record. Barack Obama is right, American's aren't satisfied and that's why we can't afford a second term."

The president routinely tells Democratic audiences that he knows it will be difficult to recapture the energy that powered him to the White House. He got a reminder of that struggle in Columbus: His rally drew 14,000 people to an arena that holds 18,300. And before he spoke, the Ohio State University newspaper The Lantern tweeted that ushers were asking people at the rally to move "in order for seats to look full for TV."

The Obama campaign billed the event as the president's first rally, but he has spent months criss-crossing the country scooping up reelection dollars and giving speeches to crowds of supporters. And Republicans have complained that he has been campaigning in all but name at "official" events characterized by highly charged political rhetoric.

After Ohio, Obama was on his way to Virginia. Both states are crucial battlegrounds in November: No Republican has reached the White House without carrying the Buckeye State. Ohio's unemployment rate of 7.5 percent in March sits below the national rate of 8.1 percent. Yet Obama and Romney are statistically tied, according to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University. In Virginia, Obama enjoys a comfortable seven-point lead, according to a Washington Post poll. Obama's 2008 victory in Virginia was the first by a Democratic presidential candidate since the 1960s.

First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the president, calling him the standard-bearer for the "fundamental promise" that hard work yields a better life and praising him for tackling "the impossible choices" a president must make.

"Barack cannot this alone," she said. "Barack needs your help."

Obama's official campaign web site live-streamed the rally, which was also promoted on his twitter feed. One introductory online video showed former Republican vice presidential Sarah Palin criticizing Obama, and recalled a Fox New Channel anchor's description of a fist bump between the president and the first lady as "a terrorist fist jab."

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