First lady Michelle Obama visited Northern Virginia on Thursday in her first solo public campaign appearance in the battleground state, tallying President Obama’s achievements and urging supporters to make sure the commonwealth lands in his win column as it did four years ago.
She also cast the upcoming presidential election as a critical turning point for the nation’s middle class, saying the president needed four more years to continue digging out of economic mess he inherited.
“We have to keep moving forward,” she told the crowd in Prince William County. “We’re working to finish what we started.”
Organizers said more than 700 volunteers and supporters crowded VFW Hall 1503 in Dale City for the first lady’s visit. Obama hit several important themes aimed at women and working-class voters and peeled off a list of her husband’s successes: overhauling national health care, rescuing Detroit’s automakers and endorsing tax breaks for the middle class. She also talked about her own background, growing up on the South Side of Chicago as the daughter of a municipal worker who paid what he could to put his kids in college.
“We want to restore that basic middle class security for families. Because we believe, here in America, folks shouldn’t go bankrupt because they get sick,” Obama said. “We believe that responsibility should be rewarded, that hard work should pay off.”
She also played up President Obama’s role as commander in chief, reminding the crowd that he had made good on his promise to get American troops out of Iraq while also giving the order to kill Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
“So, Virginia – let me ask you one last question: Are you in? Because I am so in. I am so fired up.”
She told the crowd that the White House expects an extremely competitive election this fall
“Call people!” she told the crowd. “Register these voters — you know, those voters who aren’t registered. Find them! Shake them! This election will be closer than the last one. That we can count on.”
Celloida Burke, 44, of Woodridge, said the first lady’s speech bowled her over.
“Amazing!” Burke said. “She is the epitome of the strong woman.”
Burke, who is a tax manager for a defense contractor, said her firm has already begun to feel the pinch of reduced federal spending, and she worries that the cuts will deepen after the election no matter who wins, but she said she remains a faithful backer of the president.
Mikeya Jones-Duzant, 36, an unemployed paralegal, said she felt just as enthusiastic for the president, even though she knows many of her friends lack the ardor they felt in 2008.
“I do see, on the whole, that there’s not as much enthusiasm,” Jones-Duzant said. But Jones-Duzant, who is African American, said the euphoria of voting for the first black president would be hard to match.
“Maybe people hoping for change potentially did not see the change they were hoping to see. But four years is not a lot of time to turn around the economy,” Jones-Duzant said.
She said she also couldn’t blame the loss of her job this on his policies.
“The unemployment situation came about long before he became president,” she said.
Earline Coe, who is a neighborhood team leader in the Coles District, said her enthusiasm for the president wasn’t dimmed by the loss of her job as a retail manager more than a year and half ago.
“I have a great job,” she said.
The first lady arrived in Virginia the same day as a new poll by Quinnipiac University that put President Obama 5 points ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) in the commonwealth. The Quinnipiac University poll had Obama beating Romney 47 percent to 42 percent, a slightly smaller margin than in March, when the Republican presidential hopeful had not yet clinched the nomination.
Prince William County Executive Corey Stewart (R) rolled out an especially red carpet for the first lady’s visit, saying efforts to shrink the county government and cut spending had helped free up money for needed transportation improvements. He said his county’s conservative approach to governance had made the county a leader in job creation.
“I welcome the Obama campaign to Prince William County and I hope they take a thing or two back to the White House,” Stewart said in a written statement.
Afterward, Michelle Obama paid a quick visit to Mom’s Apple Pie Co., a family-owned bakery in Occoquan. When she arrived, she was serenaded on violin by 6-year-old Sydney Trapp, who also hit her up for tickets to next year’s White House Easter Egg hunt.
“You are on it!” Obama said. Trapp, who lives in Fredericksburg, played a snatch of “Ode to Joy” as her mother, Melissa, snapped photos from a smartphone.
“You’ve earned your pie,” Obama said when the girl finished playing and lowered the violin bow, and she asked how the girl was doing in school. Then she greeted supporters and posed for pictures. Among the people in the bakery was Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta. Then Obama stepped up to the counter to purchase two pies: apple and sour cherry.
“I will be killed if I don’t come out of here with pie,” she said.
The bakery, which also has a store in Leesburg, has been around since 1981, when it was founded by Avis Renshaw and Steven Cox. The company’s Web site said the bakery emphasizes the use of homegrown ingredients and moderate use of sugar.