CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “Let’s Move!” moved to North Carolina on Friday in an event with schoolchildren that had Michelle Obama charming the crowd. With her favorability ratings consistently high (and consistently higher than the president’s, although he’s edged over 50 percent lately), the first lady is the administration’s not-so-secret weapon.
In a swing state that barely went for Obama in 2008, in the arena that’s the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in September, the first lady joined with North Carolina Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan to assist in a lively relay race that may offer a preview of the political one in November.
The brief timeout happened between women’s basketball games Friday afternoon during CIAA madness. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament that features historically black colleges. “As you all know, we are a basketball family,” she said. “My husband is a crazy fanatic about basketball. And what better way to let kids have some fun than to run around out here on the court?”
After listening to her anti-obesity message, the children ran, skipped rope and dribbled to the basket with Obama’s and Hagan’s encouragement. Hagan told the first lady she had played one-on-one with her husband. There was, she said, “a lot of pushing and shoving, and he almost kept up with me.”
Though her appearance was brief, seeing the first lady — who was dressed in black pants and a white shirt — was a bonus for the basketball crowd, especially compared to the money they would have had to shell out for fundraisers later that night, with North Carolina’s own James Taylor as entertainment — $12,500 per couple for dinner and a performance, or $250 for a later reception.
Money raised will benefit the Committee for Charlotte 2012, the host committee that must raise the $36.65 million convention budget. (When asked how it’s going — with DNC rules that exclude cash contributions from lobbyists, political actions and corporations, as well as individual donations above $100,000 — convention officials will say only that it’s “right on track.”)
After good wishes for the teams — “We are so proud of you, especially our ladies” — and photos with Mayor Anthony Foxx, Congressman Mel Watt, who is running for reelection, and every available Democratic politician who could squeeze into the picture, Obama was off for the rest of a long day that had started at a campaign event in Raleigh.
Janie Ferguson, 72, of Charlotte, who has been attending CIAA for 20 years, said of the first lady, “She’s a real people person.” Ferguson said the Obamas have set a good example. “A lot of young men are spending more time with their children.”
Ferguson’s 16-year-old granddaughter, Chynna Danne, said, “The first black family in the White House makes me want to step up my game.”
The president of the United States might have to do the same when he’s scheduled to visit Charlotte on Wednesday to talk about the economy. As he probably knows by now, Michelle Obama is a tough act to follow.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3