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Updated May 1, 2012, 6:55 am
Appearing at a Tucson fundraiser Monday night, the first lady said Democrats can win Arizona in November.
"It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work," Michelle Obama said, reciting a list of her husband's accomplishments and giving shout-outs to Calexico and congressional candidate Ron Barber.
"Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just a few at the top? Who are we?" she asked a crowd of 450 at the Tucson Convention Center.
"Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead no matter who you are or how you started out? Who do we want to be? Will we tell folks who have done everything right but are struggling just a little bit, are we going to look them in the eye and say, tough luck, you're on your own? Who are we?"
Obama listed President Barack Obama's success in passing a middle-class tax cut, saving the auto industry, an increase in private-sector employment, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and passing health care reform in her speech to donors who paid $150 to $10,000 to attend the fundraiser, from which the press was excluded.
"I can't tell you how special this place is to us," Michelle Obama said. The first lady last visited Tucson when she accompanied the president at a memorial just days after the Jan. 8 shootings that killed six and wounded 13, including Barber and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
In her speech, Obama told Giffords' mother, Gloria, "We are so inspired by Gabby's courage and her determination, and I just want you to know that we love her and we are with her, with you, with the family every step of the way."
The first lady called on Democrats to work to win in Arizona.
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"I know we are going to do it here because of people like you," she said
"Let me tell you something Tucson, it is time for us to get moving. It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work," she said at the end of her 25-minute speech.
Arizona voters who've made up their minds are evenly split between President Obama and likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but 18 percent remain undecided, a poll released last week said.
The statewide Merrill/Morrison Institute poll of 488 registered voters found 42 percent said they would vote for former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, while 40 percent said they would support Obama. Eighteen percent were undecided in the poll, which had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
The electorate is divided along party lines, the poll found: 80 percent of Republicans said they would vote for Romney, 78 percent of Democrats for Obama.
Independents appear to be breaking slightly more for Obama (38 percent) than Romney (28 percent), but the sample of voters not registered with the major parties was small. Further, 34 percent of the 166 independents polled remained undecided.
"In Arizona, like the rest of the nation, political independents may determine who wins in November," said poll director Dr. Bruce Merrill, a senior fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
"The eventual outcome also may be dependent on whether former Surgeon General Richard Carmona can mount a vigorous campaign for retiring Sen. John Kyl's seat, a campaign that would stimulate turnout in the Hispanic community. While I think if the election were held today Romney probably would win, it appears Obama can mount a competitive campaign in Arizona," Merrill said in a news release.
Michelle Obama's speech
The first lady's speech, as released by the White House:
MICHELLE OBAMA: Oh my goodness! (Applause.) All right. You all sound like you're already fired up and ready to go, so I'll just take my shoes off and go home. (Laughter.) Thank you so much. Thank you. Can you all hear me? I just want to make sure. I'm a little taller. (Laughter.)
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But let me tell you, it is a pleasure and truly an honor to be here with all of you, to be back in Tucson. I just can't tell you how special this place is to us.
I want to start by thanking Maria Elena for that very kind introduction. Let's give her a round of applause. (Applause.) She gave me shoelaces, and I was like okay — so we took a picture with our shoelaces. She told me she would explain them and now I am proud to have my shoelaces. Thank you so much.
I also want to recognize a few dear people here. Congressman Grijalva is here, who has just been amazing. (Applause.) And his beautiful daughter who was just -– she was just –- now she's bigger! Oh my god, the years! Granddaughter — well, did I say daughter? Granddaughter, of course. I mean, you look good, but not that good. (Laughter.) She's a preciousness.
I also want to thank Mayor Rothchild for being here as well. (Applause.) Your State Party Chair, Bill Roe, who's been doing an amazing job. (Applause.) Thank you all for your leadership and service. I know we're going to do it here because of people like you. I know we are. (Applause.)
And, wow, wasn't Calexico — they were amazing. Amazing. (Applause.) I got to hear a little bit backstage, very good. Thank you all, thanks for that wonderful performance.
I also want to recognize Ron Barber. (Applause.) He is going to do a fantastic job representing his district in Washington. We will be happy to have him out there. (Applause.)
And we are thrilled to have Gloria Giffords here with us this evening. (Applause.) Gloria! She knows how proud we are of her daughter. I mean, we are so inspired by Gabby's courage and her determination, and I just want you to know that we love her and we are with her, with you, with the family every step of the way. Thank you for taking the time to be here. (Applause.)
And finally, I just want to thank all of you. This is a wonderful crowd. Look at you guys, looking so good here. Thank you all. Thank you for your support, and for taking the time to be here this evening. Is it evening now? I'm having a hard time keeping up with what time of day is it; I started in D.C. at 7 a.m. or something like that, so I think this is the second half of my day or something like that. But I'm thrilled to be here.
And I know that there's a reason why you all are here. And it's not just to see me — although I'm thrilled for those of you who came to see me. (Laughter and applause.)
But you're here because you know that this November — and the time is ticking –- we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you're here because you know that choice won't just affect all of us, but it's going to affect our children, our grandchildren, and, more importantly, the world we leave behind for them long after we're gone.
And truly, that is why I'm here as well. That's why I'm going to be out there working as hard as I can over the next several months. Because as First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this great country, and I get to meet folks from all different backgrounds. I get to hear what's going on in their daily lives. And every day, I hear about the challenges people are facing. I hear about the bills they're trying to pay, about the businesses they're trying to keep afloat, the home they love but are struggling to afford.
But no matter what folks are going through, let me tell you — no matter what challenges they face, they keep on working. They keep on sacrificing. Why? Because they desperately want something better for their kids. They believe in that fundamental vision for our economy that we all share. Regardless of who we are, we share this vision: The idea, as Barack says, that hard work should pay off, that responsibility should be rewarded, and that everyone in this country should get a fair shot but play by the same rules. (Applause.)
And we have to remember that those values are the foundation of an economy built to last. And they're basic American values — the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself.
By now, you know my story. My father was a blue collar worker at the city water plant, and he worked there his entire life. My family, we lived in a little bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago over my aunt's house. My mom still lives in that house to this day and my room looks exactly the way it did when I was a teenager, down to the bedspread and the pictures on the wall. (Laughter.) She hasn't touched a thing.
But neither of my parents had the chance to go to college. But let me tell you what they did — they saved everything, and they sacrificed everything. They poured everything they had into us, because they wanted something more for me and my brother.
And truly, more than anything else, the reason why we're here is because that's what's at stake — that fundamental promise that no matter who you are, no matter how you started out, if you work hard you can build a decent life for yourself, but more importantly, an even better life for your kids. And let me tell you, on just about every issue that is the choice we face.
Let's start with all those tax cuts that my husband passed for middle-class families. Think about it. Those cuts are about whether people can heat their homes — that's what that's about. They're about whether they can send their kids to college; whether they can retire with a little dignity, a little security.
It's about more money in people's pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. Those cuts are about making sure that everyone pays their fair share. And that's why Barack proposed the Buffett Rule — to close tax loopholes — (applause) — simply so that millionaires and billionaires aren't paying lower tax rates than firefighters and teachers. Something simple. (Applause.) But that's what's at stake.
And how about everything my husband has been doing to create jobs in this economy? (Applause.) Think back, as you saw in that video, to when all those folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under — remember that — with more than a million jobs on the line. Remember that?
But what did Barack do? He had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people and as a result, today, the auto industry is back on its feet, and more importantly, people are back to work providing for their families again. (Applause.)
And how about when Barack first took office? This economy was losing an average of 750,000 jobs every single month. That's what he inherited. That's what he walked into after he took the oath. But for the past 25 straight months, we have actually been gaining private sector jobs –- a total of more than 4 million jobs in just two years. (Applause.) So while we certainly have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, today, millions of folks are collecting a paycheck again. But that's what's at stake. That's the choice we face.
And how about all that has been done for our small businesses? These are the companies that create two-thirds -– two-thirds of all new jobs each year in this economy. Now, I'm talking about the mom who opens up the drycleaners to provide for her kids. Those are the people we're talking about — the family that's been running that neighborhood diner for generations.
See, for these folks, the small business tax cuts this administration has passed, for these folks it means the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. It's the difference between them keeping those doors open or closing up shop for good. That's the choice we face.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act –- (applause) — to help women get equal pay for equal work. And it's important to understand why he did this. He did this because Barack knows what it means when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother, a woman with a high school education –- was able to work her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. His grandmother worked hard, and she was good at her job. But like so many women she hit that glass ceiling and watched men no more qualified than she was –- men she had actually trained –- be promoted up that ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, for Barack, this is not an abstract issue. This isn't hypothetical. He signed this bill because he knows that closing that gap, that can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on the backs of their kids. He did it because when so many women are now breadwinners for our families, women's success in this economy is the key to family success in this economy. (Applause.) But that's what's at stake. That's what's at stake.
Let's talk for a minute about health care. I mean, two years ago we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) And because we passed this law, insurance companies will now have to cover basic preventative care — things like prenatal care, mammograms, contraception at no extra cost. (Applause.) And they can no longer deny our children coverage because they have a pre-existing condition — things like diabetes or asthma. (Applause.)
And our children can now stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26 years old — (applause) — so that when they graduate from college, they won't have to go without health care right when they're trying to find a job, starting to build their lives. And today, that's how 2.5 million young people in this country are getting their health coverage today. (Applause.) And since we passed this law, millions of our senior citizens have saved an average of more than $600 a year for their prescription drugs.
So we have to ask ourselves — are we going to take those savings away? Are we going to allow insurance companies to refuse covering our children?
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MICHELLE OBAMA: Or will we say that here in America, no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can't afford a doctor. (Applause.) That is the choice we face.
And think for a moment about all that we're doing to give our kids a good education. I mean, think about the investments we've made to raise standards and reform our public schools. I mean, think about how my husband has been fighting so hard for the DREAM Act — (applause) — so that responsible young immigrants who came here as children and were raised as Americans can earn a pathway to citizenship by going to college, serving in our military. How about that? (Applause.)
And think about how my husband has — he took billions of dollars in taxpayer money that used to go to middleman banks and lenders and he sent that money where it belongs — to help millions of our young people go to college. (Applause.) And we have to understand that these investments in our young people won't just determine our children's success. I mean, this kind of investment will determine nothing less than the success of our entire economy. It will determine whether we're prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world. But that's what's at stake.
And let us not forget how my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices. (Applause.) Let's not forget how, for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. (Applause.) And we cannot forget the impact those court's decisions will have on our lives for decades to come — on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and yes, love whomever we choose. (Applause.) That's what's at stake. That is the choice we face.
And let us not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. I mean, thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.) My husband kept his promise and he ended the war in Iraq, brought our troops home, and we are working hard every single day to give them and their families the benefits that they've earned. (Applause.)
And finally, because my husband ended "don't ask, don't tell," our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
But all of that is at stake this November — all of it. So make no mistake about it — whether it's health care, the economy, education, foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but more importantly who do we want to be. I mean, that's what we have to ask ourselves. Who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just a few at the top? Who are we? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead no matter who you are or how you started out? Who do we want to be? Will we tell folks who have done everything right but are struggling just a little bit, are we going to look them in the eye and say, tough luck, you're on your own? Who are we?
Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that we are all in this together, and in this country we are strongest when we are all better off? (Applause.) Who do we want to be? (Applause.) Will we continue all the change we've begun, all the progress we've made? Or will we just allow everything we've fought for to just slip away? But those are the choices we face.
And we know what we need to do, right? We know that we cannot turn back now. We need to keep moving forward. That's what we need to do. (Applause.)
And what I want you all to know is that your President knows this. He understands this because he has lived this. That's why he understands these issues.
See, Barack was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped up? His grandmother — waking up before dawn to take that bus to her job at the bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, she never complained. How many people in our lives do we know like that? They don't complain. She just kept on showing up. Just kept doing her best.
So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn't have the chance to fulfill their potential. Because those are the experiences that have made him not just the man, but the President he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And I'm just trying to tell everybody that they need to know who their President is. See, that is what I hear in his voice when he comes home from a long day traveling across the country and he tells me about the people he has met. That's what I see in those quiet moments late at night after the girls have gone to bed, and he is poring over the letters he has received — the letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won't cover her care. The letter from the father still struggling to pay his family's bills. The letters from far too many young people with so much promise but too little opportunity.
And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says "you won't believe what folks are going through." That's what he says. He says, "Michelle, this ain't right. We've got to fix this. We have so much more to do."
See, what you need to know about Barack is that when he meets people, he has got a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) He might not remember your name, but if he has a few moments and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart.
And that is what he is carrying with him every single day. It is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. That is where Barack gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that is why, even in the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal — never. He never lets himself get distracted by all the chatter and the noise. Just like his grandmother, he just keeps moving forward.
But I have said this before and I will say it again, and again, and again — he cannot do it alone. That was never the promise. He needs your help. He needs your help. See, he needs you to make those calls, to register those voters. He needs you to take those "I'm In" cards — you've seen those? Pick them up. Use them. Sign them up. Sign up your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, go into your churches — sign them up. Convince folks to join in just giving a little part of themselves, just a little bit of themselves each week to this campaign.
Because we all know that this was never about just one extraordinary man — although, let me tell you I'm biased. I think our President is awesome. (Applause.) I think he has done a phenomenal job. But it is not about him. It has never been about Barack Obama. It has always been about us — all of us — all of us coming together for the values we know we believe in and the country we want to be. The country we want to be.
And I'm not going to kid you — this journey, this is going to be long and it is going to be hard. (Laughter.) And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is that's how change always happens. That's how it always happens. The reality is that change is slow and it never happens all at once.
But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, we always get there. We always do. We never have gone backwards. We've always moved ahead — maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren's lifetimes. In the end, that's what this is about. We are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We are fighting these battles for our sons and our daughters; for our grandsons, for our granddaughters.
Like so many people who fought for us to be here, we are fighting for the world we want to leave for them. (Applause.) That is what's at stake. That's what we're working towards.
So let me tell you something, Tucson. It is time for us to get moving, right? Oh, it is time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work. So I have one last question, are you in?
MICHELLE OBAMA: Oh, I got to hear this. Are you in? (Applause.) Come on! How in are you? Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Because I am so in, I am so fired up. I know so well what the stakes are, and I'm going to be out there as much as I can. But we need you every step of the way.
So I look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead. Let's get this done, all right? God bless. (Applause.)