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Some of the attendees were longtime Obama supporters but said their anxiety about the economy and their personal finances brought them to Lake Harriet. Several said they wanted to hear that Obama understood their concerns, particularly when Washington seems consumed by foreign crisis and showdowns.
Nikol Williams, 42, quit her job as a medical assistant when child care costs for her three young kids outstripped her paycheck. She’d like to get back to work but doesn’t see a way for that to happen.
“That’s the battle we are dealing with,” said Williams of Minneapolis. “I wish there was something that could be done.”
LaDonna Meinecke is the daughter of a meatpacker who had what she considered a comfortable middle-class upbringing. She worries that the middle class is shrinking and that her children are less likely to have a comfortable life.
“There’s a gap in the economy,” said Meinecke, a social worker from Corcoran. “And I am really worried about it.”
Obama came to Minnesota after Twin Cities wife and mother Rebekah Erler wrote to him about the hardships of raising a family coming out of the Great Recession.
Obama ate cheeseburgers with Erler on Thursday and sprinkled anecdotes of her life throughout his visit, including in his speech at Lake Harriet.
“It’s amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to,” she wrote in her letter to the president. “We’re a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
Obama used Erler’s story to make a larger point about the country.
“That describes the American people,” he said. “We, too, are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”
Republicans criticized Obama for highlighting Erler’s story, noting that she was a Democratic field organizer in Washington state.
Obama urged Minnesotans to look past the cynicism that’s infected politics.
“I know that our politics looks profoundly broken, and Washington looks like it’s never going to deliver for you,” he said. “I ran for office to make sure that anybody who is working hard to meet their dreams has somebody in Washington that is listening. And I’m always going to keep listening.”
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.
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