HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – It was a mother-daughter double team on the day before the last day of early voting in North Carolina. Jill Biden and daughter, Ashley Biden, spoke to an overflow crowd at the Obama campaign office in this town just north of Charlotte on Friday.
Jill Biden praised the “energy and enthusiasm” in the room, and spent as much time shaking hands and taking pictures as she did speaking. In her brief remarks, interrupted by shouts of “four more years” and “we love you, Jill” and lots of applause, she managed to cover issues sure to connect, from aid to military families to women’s health choices to education. “It’s all about people’s lives,” she said. “It’s no different for me, even if my husband weren’t on the ballot.”
Biden said she used Skype to share election night in 2008 with son Beau, at the time deployed in Iraq with the Delaware Army National Guard. Her wish was, she said, “that President Obama would get us out of that war in Iraq.” She said, “I want to make sure that our veterans and their families get the benefits they’ve earned and the respect that they deserve.” It’s no accident in this state with military bases that Ashley Biden was introduced by Rick Taormina, a Vietnam veteran from Huntersville.
Taking a cue from a woman holding a poster that read “Women will remember in November,” Jill Biden listed the benefits to women and families in the Affordable Care Act. “I’m sure the women in here know that the first bill the president signed was” — and many in the crowd said along with her — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. “So many women of my generation fought so hard for Roe v. Wade and for contraception and for equal rights, we cannot go back,” she said.
Jill Biden joked about asking for Election Day off from her full-time job as a community college instructor. “Teaching isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.” After asking if there were any other teachers in the room, she said, “We want to make sure that we continue to invest in quality education.”
Ashley Biden introduced her mother as an inspiration for her own career choice of social worker: “She gives her all to everything she does.” It hit a chord in a crowd where being a community organizer is not a bad thing.
Bee Jay Caldwell, 66, Huntersville born and bred, has organized several groups around community issues, and is phone-banking for the Obama campaign this election. In 2008, she knocked on doors but now, she said, “these knees don’t work so well.” She said she was “so proud” of Jill Biden, “a woman who can stand on her own and is able to live out her life, and still be a partner to her husband.”
The retired school administration secretary said of the president, “I can identify with his mandates, his passion for people.” Caldwell, who is African American, said she remembers segregation. “Freedom for us was an education and a job,” she said. Everyone had a responsibility to give something back, she said, to “reach back to help those who got lost along the way.” She said she doesn’t think Mitt Romney understands. “He relates to money,” she said. “More is not always better.”
Dr. Dan Koehler of Mooresville, N.C., jockeyed for a photo op after Jill Biden’s speech. “She’s smart; she’s an accomplished woman,” he said. Koehler, 48, who moved from Philadelphia in 1996, said of the president: “He’s honest. He has character. He looks out for the common man and the middle class. I want someone who’s smarter than me.” The cardiologist also supports health care reform as a way to get more people to take care of themselves and stay healthy. Relying on an emergency room “leaves you with a huge, unpayable bill,” he said, “and you’re never going to get the kind of care you need.”
Koehler said some of his friends, Romney supporters, are “flummoxed by the potential for higher taxes, though we can afford it.” He said they agree with the GOP candidate’s comments on the 47 percent “who don’t deserve it.” In his opinion, Koehler said, “a measure of society is not how well the best are doing but how you treat the ones who need your help. “
With Biden’s appearance on Friday, and scheduled North Carolina stops by President Bill Clinton on Sunday and first lady Michelle Obama on Monday, the Obama campaign is showing it’s serious about a repeat of 2008, when the president won the state by a narrow 14,000-vote margin. Democrats are counting on a strong ground game, an edge in early voting and a heavy turnout from African American, Hispanic and young voters. Republicans are confident that they learned a lesson about complacency in 2008, and have brought in heavy-hitters of their own, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Rick Santorum, to energize the GOP base.
On the road leading to the Biden event on Friday, a small group carrying Romney/Ryan signs made sure no one could forget that the Republicans are very much in the fight for North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes. Polls show a slight Romney lead.
Mary Lou Richardson, president of North Mecklenburg Republican Women, held a “Fire Obama” sign. “That’s who we are.” She said that despite improving jobs numbers “all the people we have been calling and seeing when we’re knocking on doors, they’re just not feeling it.” Instead, she said she hears about unemployment and foreclosures. Carole Gibbons, a real-estate agent standing next to her, agreed.
Richardson admitted that “a few radicals” in the GOP may be getting the headlines, especially on women’s health issues, and said that despite what anyone – or the candidate’s past statements – may say, a President Romney wouldn’t do anything to strike down Roe v. Wade. “They’re not going to do that,” she said, echoing what many GOP women who prefer Romney’s moderate pivot have said to me.
Richardson was especially upset at the idea that Republicans don’t care about the less fortunate. “I don’t know where that comes from?” she said. “I want a good life for everybody in this country.” Richardson, a surgical services nurse who is in her 60’s, said that some younger Americans may not have the work ethic of her generation. “Life,” she said, “is never going to be fair.” She is feeling good about Romney’s chances on Election Day. In 2008, she said, voters were lukewarm about John McCain, and people “loved or did not love” Sarah Palin. “But people love Romney/Ryan.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3