Two days before the start of early voting, first lady Michelle Obama returned to North Carolina Tuesday to make the case that America can only move forward if her husband is re-elected.
Just weeks after a similar campaign appearance at North Carolina Central University in Durham, Obama drew a crowd of more than 5,000 to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carmichael Arena, where she emphasized issues important to young voters—Pell grants, student loans, jobs, education—and said the future of all of these is on the line in the 21 days between now and the Nov. 6 election.
In her speech, Obama numbered the beneficiaries of her husband’s presidency in the millions—he has created millions of jobs and helped millions of people through his health care plan, she said.
“Look, I could go on and on and on,” she said. “Barack Obama knows the American dream because he’s living it, and he is fighting every day so that every one of us in this country can have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like or who we love.”
Obama added that the president ended the war in Iraq, ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden, repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” and fought for benefits for veterans and military families as well as work permits for immigrants.
The progress the president has made is at stake if he loses in November, Obama said. Four years ago, the president won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes, which meant he won each precinct by five votes, she said. She warned that this year’s contest will be even closer.
“One person could swing an entire precinct,” she said.
Given the closeness of the race, Obama encouraged young people to vote and to tell their parents, grandparents and friends to vote as well, preferably during the next few weeks of early voting. She also urged supporters to take a day off work to campaign. Obama emphasized the importance of education to the crowd, which gathered on a college campus. Obama began her remarks by mentioning the “visionary leadership” of Bill Friday, the former president of the University of North Carolina system who died last week.
Former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt shared a similar sentiment in his opening remarks.
“[Businesses] don’t just come to North Carolina for our Southern hospitality,” Hunt said. “They come for our well-educated workforce. They come for you.”
Many attendees at the rally, which catered largely to supporters of the president, voiced approval for the first lady’s prowess as a speaker.
“I thought it was a good call to action,” said Samanthis Smalls, history graduate student at Duke and Obama phone bank volunteer. “With the reminder that there are only 21 days left, clearly this is a push toward the end.”
Smalls said she appreciated the time Obama spent after her speech shaking hands with the Organizing for America volunteers on the floor of the arena. Duke senior Chris Carroll thought Obama’s opening remarks could have had more substance. For instance, in the context of an anecdote recounting to the crowd why she married the president, she mentioned it was not just because her husband is handsome.
“The message when she said that was kind of, ‘Barack’s a really handsome and really good-looking person, so you should vote for him,’” Carroll said. “She’s an incredibly intelligent woman. I wish she would just stand on her own, rather than in the background promoting her husband.”
The personal anecdotes Obama offered were rich in detail, such as the look on her father’s face when she walked across the stage for college graduation. But when she discussed politics, she turned from details to more general statements, Carroll noted.
Carroll said he and his friends were struck when Obama mentioned “ending the war in Iraq” as an accomplishment of her husband’s.
“My friends and I just looked at each other like, ‘Oh, Michelle,’” he said. “It’s all politics.”