President Barack Obama rallied thousands of students and Democrats at USC today, telling them they need to vote next month to prevent the country from being returned to what he described as failed Republican policies of the past.
Obama told the partisan crowd he knew the nation's economy has been struggling and his administration has been under fire, but he said such challenges were expected.
"I understand the last two years haven't been easy,'' Obama said. "I know that a lot of you, you're thinking back to election night or inauguration day and how much fun that was, and Beyonce was singing and Bono, and Jamie (Foxx) was there and it felt like a big party. But I want everybody to understand, I told you this was going to be hard. I told you power concedes nothing without a fight.''
Obama spoke at the fifth in a series of what the Democratic National Committee has dubbed "Moving America Forward'' rallies, during which Obama has stressed the need for young voters to be engaged in the political process and vote in November.
He drove home that point during the energetic rally that included introductions by Jamie Foxx and a performance by the band Ozomatli. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, state attorney general candidate Kamala Harris and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also spoke.
In a roughly 25-minute speech, Obama said the Democratic Party needs supporters to be "committed to finish what we started in 2008.''
"That's why it's so important for all of you to get out, all of you have got to vote,'' he said. "If everybody who fought for change in 2008 turns out this time, we will win this election. And so I want to remind you why you
got involved. You didn't get involved just to elect a president. You got involved because you believed we were at a defining moment. You believed that this was a time when the decisions we make, the challenges we face, are going to shape the lives of our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren for decades to come.
"That's why you knocked on doors, that's why you made phone calls. That's why some of you cast your vote for the very first time.''
Obama told the crowd their votes were needed to prevent the Republicans from regaining control of Congress. He said the nation's economic woes can be traced to the previous Republican administration, and he chided the GOP leadership for now trying to place the blame on Democrats.
"I want you to think about it this way: Imagine that these folks drove the car into the ditch and it was a really deep ditch. And somehow they were able to walk away from the accident but they did nothing to get the car out of the ditch. And so me and Barbara and Jerry and (Los Angeles Mayor) Antonio (Villaraigosa), we all put on our boots and we climbed down into the ditch. And it's hot down there. ... We're sweating but we're pushing, we're pushing to get the car out of the ditch.
"... And as we're pushing we look up and the Republicans are all standing there at the top of the ditch. They're all looking down and we say, `Why don't you come down and help us?' and they say, `No, that's all right.' And then they kick some dirt down into the ditch.''
He said the country can't afford to give Republicans the keys to the car.
"We've got to tell them, you can't have the keys back. You don't know how to drive.''
The crowd -- 32,500 people plus 5,000 more in an overflow area, according to USC -- responded with chants of "Yes we can.''
"We no longer face the possibility of a second depression,'' Obama said. "The economy is growing again. The private sector has seen job growth nine months in a row. But we've still got a long way to go. We've still got a lot of work to do. There are a lot of people out there still hurting. I know there are a lot families still hanging on by a thread. That's what keeps me up at night. That's what keeps me fighting. That's why all of you are here, because you know we've got more work to do.''
Prior to taking the stage, Obama took part in a fundraising luncheon for Boxer, who is facing a tough re-election challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina.
"The other side, they want to take us back, they want to take us back to the Bush policies,'' Boxer told the crowd. "They did not work, did they?''
Jahan Wilcox, a regional press secretary for the Republican National Committee, told City News Service earlier that "Senator Barbara Boxer has been in office for 28 years and during that time California has lost millions of jobs.
"If that's what Senator Boxer and the White House considers `moving forward' then California and the rest of the country is in serious trouble.''
Brian Seitchik of the California Republican Party said Obama's visit "might generate a few celebrity sightings and gin up some half-hearted enthusiasm within the Democrats' base.''
People began entering the rally at USC's Alumni Park at 10 a.m. Admittance was provided on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Brandi Hoffine of the Democratic National Committee.
The visit was Obama's fifth to Southern California as president and the first time he will be speaking at an event that is free and open to the public since his first visit in March 2009, when he conducted town hall meetings in Costa Mesa and near downtown Los Angeles and appeared on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.''
The visit was Obama's second to USC. He came to the campus on Oct. 27, 2006, while he was a U.S. senator, speaking at rallies in support of the statewide Democratic ticket and Proposition 87, what proved to be a failed ballot measure that would have raised taxes on oil companies to fund research into alternative energy.
Obama is the fifth sitting president to visit USC and the first since Ronald Reagan in 1984, according to university records. The others were William Howard Taft in 1911, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935 and Gerald R. Ford in 1976.
Following his appearances at USC, Obama headed to Glendale to tape an appearance on the Univision Radio program "Piolin por la Manana,'' which will air Monday.
After the interview, Obama was taken by helicopter back to LAX then boarded Air Force One bound for Las Vegas, where he will take part in a Democratic National Committee rally and fundraiser for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Obama flew into Los Angeles International Airport from San Francisco. He is in the midst of a five-state, four-day trip mixing fundraising with events intended to boost turnout among groups that supported him in 2008, such as students and Latinos, in an effort to limit Democratic losses in the midterm elections.