Sherrod Brown, the first-term U.S. senator who faces a tough reelection battle this year, gave a rather subdued, rambling speech, but he got the crowd on his side when he brought up the opposition. Brown closed his speech by reading an open letter his wife, newspaper columnist Connie Schultz, had written to Santorum protesting his contention, since withdrawn, that Obama was a "snob" for promoting higher education. "My wife doesn't drive two Cadillacs -- she drives a Dodge, but that's OK," he noted.
But by far the most galvanizing lines of the night were those that touched on the contraception debate. There were repeated references to Rush Limbaugh's comments calling law student Sandra Fluke a "slut." It was a reminder that women volunteers who started as activists for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, now elderly, remain the backbone of many local Democratic Party organizations.
Betty Sutton, the energetic blonde congresswoman who represents Brown's former Akron-area district, recalled a mailer her opponent had sent: "Let's take Betty Sutton out of the House and put her back in the kitchen," it said. "And my husband said, 'What would she do there?'" she said, to laughter. "Because that's not where my talents lie."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz took the stage last, apologizing for her voice, which was hoarse -- likely from hundreds of events like this one. As she began, an email to supporters from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee landed in my inbox, with the subject line: "Misogyny."
Wasserman Schultz began by touting the president's plans for the economy as laid out in his latest State of the Union. There was no more than perfunctory applause for this part, the arid, pleading case Obama would be relying on to win reelection if Republicans hadn't given them so much new material.
But then Wasserman Schultz brought up Limbaugh and Fluke. "He wants to watch her having sex!" she exclaimed. "What, pray tell, did she do to deserve this vitriolic treatment?"
She attacked the Republican candidates for not denouncing Limbaugh strongly enough. "Mark my words, they are going to pay for it! They are going to pay for it on Election Day!" she said, whipping the audience into a frenzy.
"It's our bodies!" Wasserman Schultz cried, her voice breaking as the crowd rose to its feet. "We will not stand for it! That debate was settled before I was born!"
Jonathan Beck, a 55-year-old attorney in Columbus, loved the speech. Two or three months ago, he wasn't particularly optimistic about Obama's reelection, he said. But with the economy ticking upward and the Republicans seemingly competing to be the most out-of-touch, his pessimism was fading.
"There's been a steady stream of slightly better news -- that and the fact that the Republicans appear to be shooting themselves in the foot with these attacks on women and all the social-values, religious talk," Beck said.
"They are losing women, and I think they're losing the middle of country," he added.
Image credit: Associated Press/David Kohl