Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, made his first appearance at Ohio State University in Columbus where he was greeted by a crowd of about 14,000, and then traveled to Richmond, Va., where he addressed a crowd estimated at 8,000 at Virginia Commonwealth University.
The first lady introduced Obama, who she called "an extraordinary man," while admitting "I am biased."
"I think our president is magnificent," she said to applause before giving a lengthy account of his first-term accomplishments.
Obama told the Virginia students that he believes the free market "is one of the greatest forces for progress in human history," but isn't "a license to take whatever you want, however you can get it."
"We've understood that alongside our entrepreneurial spirit, our rugged individualism, America only prospers when we meet our obligations to one another and to future generations," Obama said. "We came together in 2008 because our country had strayed from these basic American values. A record surplus was squandered on tax cuts for people who didn't need them and weren't even asking for them. Two wars were being waged on a credit card. Wall Street speculators reaped huge profits by making bets with other people's money. Manufacturing left our shores. A shrinking number of Americans did fantastically well, while most people struggled with falling incomes and rising costs, and the slowest job growth in half a century.
"And in 2008, that house of cards collapsed in the most destructive crisis since the Great Depression.
"It was tough all across the country. But the American people are tougher. All across America, people like you dug in. There have been disappointments. But we didn't quit. We don't quit. Together, we are fighting our way back."
Obama said Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is his likely Republican opponent in the general election in November, is a "patriotic American" who "raised a wonderful family" and "has much to be proud of."
" He's run a large financial firm, and he's run a state. But I think he's drawn the wrong lessons from these experiences," Obama said. "He sincerely believes that if CEOs and wealthy investors like him make money, the rest of us will automatically prosper as well.
"The problem with our economy is not that the American people aren't productive enough -- you've never been working harder in your lives.
"The challenge we face right now -- the challenge we've faced for over a decade -- is that harder work hasn't led to higher incomes. It's that bigger profits haven't led to better jobs. And Governor Romney doesn't seem to get that. He doesn't seem to understand that maximizing profits by whatever means necessary -- whether through layoffs or outsourcing or tax avoidance or union-busting -- might not always be good for the average American or for our economy."
During Obama's speech in Richmond, photographers observed a woman in a black burka being escorted out of the gym by city police and other security officials. She appeared to have a collection of U.S. military insignia pinned to her garment and a book in her hand. She appeared to cooperate with law enforcement officials.
Speaking earlier in the day at Ohio State's Schottenstein Center, the president said his campaign is "still about hope" and "change."
"It's still about ordinary people who believe in the face of great odds that we can make a difference in the life of this country. Because I still believe, Ohio," Obama said.
"I still believe we are not as divided as our politics suggest. I still believe we have more in common than pundits tell us. We're not Democrats or Republicans, but Americans first and foremost."
The Democrat's goal, analysts say, is to revive his image as a crusader for "change" that resonated so well among college-age voters four years ago.
"I think even though people are a little more tired and he's got a little more gray, he's still got the fire and he's still got the drive," a former Obama senior administration official told The Hill. "He's just going to need to excite and inspire voters just as much as he did last time if we're going to pull this off."
The newspaper said Obama will portray himself as being more in tune with the middle class than Romney and will contrast his record and plans against Romney's agenda.
"Now Romney has to put his record and his agenda up against the president's, and we look forward to that debate," said senior Obama political adviser David Axelrod.
The Republican camp conceded Obama is a skilled campaigner who will be in his element this weekend; however, they said his own record over the past four years has been a failure and will be a significant handicap.