All fired up
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First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged supporters to work for the Obama campaign during a Sept. 19 visit to East Carolina University. A capacity crowd of 6,000 came out to attend the event. (Photos by Cliff Hollis and Jay Clark)
First lady encourages grassroots support for Obama campaign
By Joy Holster
ECU News Services
Shouts of “Fired up! Ready to go!” rocked Minges coliseum as first lady Michelle Obama laid out a plan of action for 6,000 rowdy supporters at East Carolina University Sept. 19.
“From now until Nov. 6, work like you’ve never worked before,” she urged the capacity crowd.
“A few evenings on the phone bank, a few weekends to knock on some doors” could make all the difference in this campaign, Obama said.
With less than seven weeks remaining before the 2012 presidential election, the first lady traveled to Greenville following a campaign stop at North Carolina Central University in Durham to encourage grassroots support for her husband, President Barack Obama.
It was the first visit to ECU by a sitting first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, according to John Tucker, university historian, and Michelle Obama’s 11th visit to North Carolina since 2009.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the Republican vice presidential candidate, visited ECU on Labor Day. ECU College Republicans did not plan any campus events in response to Obama’s visit. In 2008, then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin campaigned at ECU.
The 2008 campaign was a tight competition, but this year’s election will be even closer, the first lady said, and battleground states such as North Carolina will have a huge impact.
The president won North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008, she said. “For some that might sound like a lot, but that is about five votes per precinct. That could mean just one vote in your neighborhood, in your apartment complex, in your dormitory,” she said.
“If any of you think your work does not matter, think about those five votes.”
Cites jobs, economic progress
Efforts to ensure four more years for the Democrats are critical because of all the hard work that has already been done, Obama said, describing how her husband faced a near-catastrophic economic meltdown the day he entered the oval office. “Instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, Barack Obama got to work,” she said.
Although much work remains, the first lady cited a number of accomplishments from the president’s four years in office, including the following:
- 4.6 million in new private sector jobs,
- 30 straight months of economic growth,
- increased funding for educational Pell Grants and a new college tax credit,
- protections for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children,
- passage of health care reform with Affordable Care Act.
“In the end, the real answer is that all of the hard work, it’s all on the line. It’s all at stake in this election,” Obama said.
A ‘fundamental promise’
Obama shared with the audience that her favorite aspect of campaigning is supporting her husband, about whom she offered some personal details.
“He is charming. He’s talented and oh-so smart,” she said, “but that is not why I married him. What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama is his character.”
Obama said they both came from working families, who “like so many families in this country weren’t asking for much. They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even though you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids.”
Barack Obama understands the pursuit of the American Dream because he has lived it, the first lady said. “And he is fighting every day so that people in America can have that same opportunity, no matter who we are or where we are from, or what we look like or who we love.”
Reaction: ‘very positive message’
ECU student Randy West, an international business major, said Michelle Obama’s speech was “fantastic, fiery, motivational.”
“It gave me hope,” said Tatum Lentz, who came from Rocky Mount. “What I have heard from the Romney campaign, that scares me. I want stability. I’m on disability and going back to college, and even at my age, I could not afford it without financial assistance.”
Aaron Lucier, director of operations for ECU’s Housing and Dining Services, said he was pleased with how positive Obama’s message was.
“It’s the message that I needed to hear. It’s the message our students needed to hear. It was very positive – not what’s wrong with this or what’s wrong with that, but working together and moving forward,” Lucier said.
‘She touched my hand’
After Obama’s remarks, Courtney Frazelle of Kinston was jumping up and down. “She reached out and touched my hand,” Frazelle said of the first lady. “She is so humble and down-to-Earth. She was talking to everyone in the line. It was so empowering to hear her.”
Obama’s comments about the student loan payments that totaled more than their mortgage when they were first married struck a chord with Frazelle. “President Obama really lived the dream. He had the same type loans that I have.”
The senior merchandising major then looked at her friends and said, “I still can’t believe that she touched my hand.”
Also in awe of having shaken hands with the first lady was Charla Johnson of Greensboro, a junior majoring in apparel merchandising. “I can’t even say it. She touched my hand.”
Johnson said Obama’s message about the “truths of the economy and what’s going on in the world” hit home with her. “Barack Obama is leading us in what we need to do and where we need to be,” she said.
Their friend Michael Dawes of Robersonville, a senior majoring in fashion apparel, was also inspired by the first lady’s remarks. “Everything she said made so much sense. I’m excited about this election after this event.”
‘A great opportunity’
In a line that stretched from Minges Coliseum down past Ficklen Stadium and back again, supporters waited outside for doors to open at 3 p.m. Most had picked up free tickets made available Monday and Tuesday at the Greenville Obama for America campaign office or at Mendenhall Student Center on campus.
ECU business major Ashlyn Medina set out to find a ticket as soon as she heard about the event. “Michelle Obama is a really strong lady, and I like strong women leaders,” she said.
Her friend Caroline Farmer, a health services management major, was excited about the opportunity. Farmer also went to see Ryan when he appeared at ECU.
“I just had to do this,” she said. “It’s such a great opportunity.”
Obama supporter Brenda Ward said she would go to any location to see Barack or Michelle Obama. “Anywhere there’s a ticket available, I’m going,” Ward said. “I’m all fired up and ready to go!”
Ward and her friend Vounghie Clemons were both excited to see their friend and relative Levi Clemons, a Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran who was selected to deliver the Pledge of Allegiance at the event. Clemons served 16 years in the U.S. Army and is a member of the Pitt County, NC 27th Chapter Disabled American Veterans.
Other presenters included ECU senior and student body vice president Matt Paske, a nursing major; Amy Littleton, North Carolina campus organizer for Organizing for America; and ECU graduate student Michaela Penix, who introduced the first lady. Sophomore music major Brantley Barnhill II sang the National Anthem and Oxley Hill Baptist Church pastor Vonner G. Horton of Merry Hill delivered the invocation.
When she first took the stage, after the crowds quieted, Obama shared some advice she had just received.
Someone told her to begin her remarks with one word, suggesting that the word would draw a hearty response. She took that advice.
“Purple!” she shouted, to a resounding “Gold!” from the audience.
“So we’ve got a few Pirates in the house,” she said.
“Sounds like you’re all fired up and ready to go!”
Jeannine Manning Hutson and Justin Boulmay also contributed to this story.