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President Obama: "Moving in Right Direction"

President Obama used a visit to Central Ohio to tout what he called the success of the federal stimulus package and to help Ohio Democrats. The president visited a Clintonville-area home Wednesday and attended a fund-raiser for Governor Strickland. The president maintains the economy is "on the right track."

In the backyard of Joe and Rhonda Weithman about 30 or so people gathered around picnic tables, patio furniture and folding chairs. The event just north of Clintonville was casual. Some wore flip-flops the president wore a tie but rolled his shirt sleeves. To the delight of the crowd, Mr. Obama blithely scolded local leaders for their formal dress.

"Take of your jackets guys. Lighten up a little here. Sheesh!"

While the setting was informal, the topic at hand was serious. The host family, the Weithman's, say the $787 billion federal stimulus package personally helped their family from what could have been financial disaster. Rhonda Weithman who carried the family's health insurance through her work got laid off. COBRA insurance subsidies, she said, kept her family covered - especially her son who had to have surgery.

"If we didn't have that 65 percent subsidy, I don't know how we would have been able to afford his surgery," Rhonda Weithman said. Joe Weithman, who owns an architectural firm, said the recession has cut his business. He said he faced downsizing from five employees to three. But a stimulus grant saved those jobs. His company is working on a project for the Columbus Division of Police.

"We're hopeful business will continue to grow," he said.

Those examples are exactly what President Obama wanted to highlight in the backyard conversation. Obama said the steps his administration took, like the federal stimulus bill, saved the economy from going into a "Great Depression."

"Whereas we were losing jobs in the private sector when I was first sworn in, we're now gaining jobs. And we've gained jobs seven consecutive months in the private sector. The economy was shrinking about six percent. The economy is now growing," the president said.

The president noted, though, that the economy has a lot more growing to do. He compared it to someone recovering from an illness.

"Slowly, but surely, we are moving in the right direction," Obama said.

With a slight reference to the mid-term races, the president said the country cannot afford to "go backwards," and he acknowledged U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Mary Jo Kilroy who voted to pass Wall Street reform.

"We can't go back to doing things the way we were doing them before. We've got to go forward. That's what we're trying to do," he noted.

The president took nine questions from the crowd, although a couple amounted to endorsements for him. The friendly audience wanted to know about health care and social security, job growth and education.

Aaron McGreevy, originally from Toledo, asked about the future of the manufacturing industry.

"How can we create a sustainable, competitive product at an advantage to make us another leader in the manufacturing and labor force industry going forward?"

Obama's answer: clean energy. He referenced wind turbines, solar panels and energy-efficient car batteries. He said that industry has "enormous promise" to boost manufacturing jobs.

"Those are potentially thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. And the Midwest is really poised to get a lot of those jobs. And a town like Toledo where you've still got a lot of skilled workers, they are poised to really take off on that. But we've got to continue to support it," Obama said.

The event was just short of an hour. And following the president's question and answer period, Governor Ted Strickland, who faces a battle for his own job this year, agreed that the economy is improving but not fast enough.

"I think the president was very realistic in what he had to say today about the cause of the recession, and what is being done to try to overcome it and move out of it," Strickland said.

Strickland would not say what effect, if any, he thought Obama's visit to the state would have on his re-election bid. But the president helped the governor raise money at an event following the late-morning meeting.

A couple hundred people lined the sidewalk at the corner of Fourth and Broad Streets. Most supported President Obama and Governor Strickland. But about two dozen people were there to protest. Some held signs criticizing the growing federal deficit, abortion rights and healthcare reform.

Diana Chaney from Dublin supports the tea party. She held a sign that said "Change it back."

"We just don't want him to fundamentally change our country, and to do things to it that was never meant to be. He is destroying our country and our Constitution, he and all of the liberal progressives. He totally disregards the Constitution," she said.

While Ohioans may not be as critical as the anti-Obama protesters, the President's approval rating in Ohio remains at about 45 percent.