First Lady Michelle Obama implored supporters in north Minneapolis Tuesday to revive the enthusiasm that swept her husband to two terms in the White House and to show up at the polls to “finish what we started.”
The first of three Democratic heavy hitters scheduled to rally voters in Minnesota this week, Obama urged supporters of the President’s programs to get to the polls and vote for Sen. Al Franken and other Democrats in next month’s midterm elections. Big turnouts among women, minorities and young people are needed to forestall GOP efforts to take control of the Senate and extend their domination in the U.S. House, she said.
Addressing a predominantly black crowd of more than 2,000 people in Patrick Henry High School gymnasium, Obama reminded supporters that Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton had each won office by extremely narrow margins and that many had been surprised when Barack Obama won the White House on the strength of unexpected voters.
“They were shocked because they were counting on voters like us to stay home, but we proved them wrong,” she said, warning that GOP strategists are counting on such voters to return to the sidelines this year as they seek the six seats necessary to seize control of the Senate.
“These midterm races will be even harder and closer than the presidential race, but they’re just as important,” she said. “Because if we don’t elect leaders like Al and Mark, who will put our families first instead of fighting for special interests, then we know exactly what will happen.”
The push for votes in Minnesota will continue Thursday, when Vice President Joe Biden will visit Hibbing, where Rep. Rick Nolan is locked in a tight race with GOP challenger Stewart Mills III. Also Thursday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will stump in St. Paul. Former President Bill Clinton visited earlier this month.
Conspicuously absent during the campaign season is President Obama, whose approval ratings are at an all-time low in Minnesota and who has not visited the state since late June.
DFL leaders say they have not asked the president to visit Minnesota since then.
Obama also touted the nation’s success, including a revived economy.
“Many of you were there for Barack’s first term in office and got a good look at the mess he’d been handed … This country was in full-blown crisis mode,” she said, noting that the economy was on the brink of collapse, Wall Street banks were folding and hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost monthly.
“By almost every economic measure,” she said, “we are better off today than when Barack Obama took office.”
Bring on the cash
Moments after Obama exited amid a mob eager to shake hands and take selfies, both campaigns immediately sent fundraising e-mails asking for cash.
“FLOTUS blew the doors off” read Franken’s e-mail, complete with the first lady standing between the candidates, arms raised.
The appearance was the second of the day for Obama, who earlier stumped in Iowa City for U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley.
Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey said the parade of big-name Democrats can be taken as an acknowledgment of momentum for his party’s top candidates: Dayton challenger Jeff Johnson and Franken challenger Mike McFadden.
“Clearly you wouldn’t have an army of Democrat leaders coming through Minnesota if this state and these races weren’t in play,” Downey said.
‘We talk too much’
Obama’s statements at the afternoon event were frequently punctuated by shouts of “We love you, Michelle!” and fervent agreement by the crowd. Michelle Green, a medical student, and Jamyl Walker, a nurse practitioner, said that as young black women, they feel compelled to set an example.
“It’s important to show the students that are below us that our vote does matter,” said Green, 26. “More importantly, we are women and want equality. If we’re not the ones taking the first stand to do it, how can we expect something to actually happen?”
Walker said that because of their jobs, access to health care is most important to both.
“It’s always exciting to see a woman of color in the position that she’s in,” Walker said of Obama. “She’s representative of everybody, and to see somebody that looks like me in that kind of position is always awesome.”
While both plan to vote, they said they were swayed by pleas to vote early because of the midterm election’s perils.
“A lot of talk happens, but less action actually occurs,” she said. “That’s the difference on whether we’ll power through as Democrats, or we’re going to be overtaken because we talk too much and didn’t put action behind it.”
Demetrius Pendleton, a 45-year-old construction worker, brought his 5-year-son, King Demetrius, to the rally, saying he intends not only to vote, but to knock on doors and make phone calls.
“A lot of times, when Barack Obama came out in ’08 and ’12, they talked about how important it was to vote and so many people turned out to vote. But when it comes to a small election, where it’s just as important, people don’t come out,” Pendleton said. “We have to communicate and educate ourselves.”