COLUMBUS, Ohio -- President Barack Obama officially kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday with a rousing rally for an arena crowd, looking to recapture some of the 2008 momentum that propelled him to victory even as he acknowledged an economy that's a work in progress.
"If people ask you what this campaign is about, you tell them it's still about hope, you tell them it's still about change," Obama told a cheering crowd at Ohio State University's Value City Arena-Schottenstein Center. "It's still about ordinary people who believe that in the face of great odds we can make a difference in the life of this country.
"If you're willing to stick with me ... we will finish what we started," Obama said as he echoed a cry from his 2008 campaign: "We are still fired up, we are still ready to go."
Obama's team cast the Ohio rally and a second one Saturday in Virginia as the official kickoff to his re-election campaign, though he has been traveling the country for months, pressing his case for a second term at official White House events that, while arguably focused on presidential policy, often have the feel of a campaign rally.
But this one had all the trappings: from the university's marching band, to campaign videos, a banner that read "Forward," and an introduction by first lady Michelle Obama. A boisterous crowd shouted out "Four More Years" several times as Obama spoke. But the crowd didn't fill the arena, which seats 18,000.
Republicans mocked the turnout as "empty seats for empty promises."
As he touted his own record, noting the end of the war in Iraq and a winding down in Afghanistan, Obama described presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a patriotic family man who nevertheless would drag the U.S. back to the policies that cratered the economy in 2007.
"They're just hoping you won't remember the last time we tried it their way," Obama said as the crowd groaned. "We were there, we remember, and we are not going back. We're moving this country forward."
Anemic jobs figures released Friday complicate Obama's message that he has pulled the country out of a deep dive and that it's slowly coming around, and he acknowledged that. "I've heard from too many people wondering why they haven't been able to get one of the jobs that have been created, why their home is still underwater, why their family hasn't been touched by the recovery."
But he argued that Republicans have the wrong priorities: favoring the rich over the middle class.
"Corporations aren't people," he said. "People are people."
Obama argued that "on issue after issue we can't afford to spend the next four years going backward."
Obama, who enjoys a considerable edge over Romney among women voters, derided Republicans for looking to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and for criticizing his initiative to require religious institutions to include contraception in health insurance coverage for employees.
"We are not turning back the clock," he said. "We are moving forward."