Michelle Obama: ‘Elections are always about hope’

First Lady campaigns in Denver for Obama’s reelection
The Colorado Statesman

First Lady Michelle Obama made an energetic case that voters should return President Barack Obama to the White House for a second term during a speech before 240 donors on Saturday evening at a downtown Denver museum.

“We’re not just here because we want to win an election — which we do, and we absolutely will, yes we will,” she said with a grin as the crowd whistled and cheered. “We are doing this because of the values we believe in.”

The election between her husband and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, she said, presents a stark choice over which ticket is better suited to delivering the American Dream.

First Lady Michelle Obama

“We’re doing this because we believe that everyone in this country should have a fair shot,” she said, and went on to talk about education opportunities.

“We believe that everyone in this country should do their fair share. That means teachers and firefighters shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires,” she said, provoking thunderous applause from the well-dressed crowd.

The fundraiser was held at the sleek, glass-clad Museum of Contemporary Art Denver on the edge of Lower Downtown, about a mile from the stadium where her husband accepted the nomination for president four years ago.

Before arriving at the fundraiser, Obama stopped in Aurora to meet with medical personnel and staff at the Medical Center of Aurora, where victims of a mass shooting in a crowded movie theater last month have been treated, according to pool reporters accompanying the First Lady. Obama also spoke with victims of the shooting and some of their family members during the surprise visit to the hospital, where she spent a little over an hour.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you every single day,” Obama said at the fundraiser. She thanked Gov. John Hickenlooper, among those who spoke before Obama took the stage, for his “tremendous leadership during difficult times.”

Tickets to the fundraiser started at $500 for general admission and rose to $8,000 for host-level couples and $15,000 for couples listed as co-chairs of the event. A limited number of $200 tickets were available to younger donors as part of the Gen44 Young Professionals program. Donations went to the Obama Victory Fund, a fundraising entity that allocates money between state Democratic parties, the Democratic National Committee and the Obama for America campaign.

Obama said that she and her husband both come from humble backgrounds so understand what families are going through during tough times. Her father, she noted, was a pump operator at a city water plant for his entire career, and her parents “saved and sacrificed and poured every bit into” their children’s education, which she called “our ticket to the middle class” and her family’s “pathway to the American Dream.”

Likewise, she said, her husband “knows what it means when a family struggles — it is not a hypothetical situation for him.” Not only does the President understand the American Dream, she said, “He’s lived it.”

A key part of that dream, she said, is that after walking through the doorway of success, “You do not slam it shut behind you.”

“That’s why we’re here. That’s what’s at stake in this election,” she said.

Throughout her 30-minute speech, audience members shouted out agreement or offered suggestions — “Time to go to work!” one shouted — but the crowd grew quiet as Obama described what she called the difficult choices faced by the President on a regular basis.

“I’ve seen some things. I’ve learned some things,” she said, leaning in. “Running for president,” she said, “is the easy part.”

She went on to describe daily decisions “with no margin for error” made by the nation’s chief executive, and said, “All that person has to guide them are life experiences,” and added that, “In the end, it all boils down to who that person is and what they stand for.”

Making a pitch for every supporter in the room to contact a single voter, Obama returned to a campaign slogan from four years ago.

“Don’t let anybody tell you differently,” she said. “Elections are always about hope.”

Obama campaign worker Elena Squarrell introduced Obama. Colorado First Lady Helen Thorpe was the primary host of the Denver fundraiser. (In a joint statement issued last week, Hickenlooper and Thorpe announced that the couple was separating but would continue functioning as a family, sharing meals, holidays and social gatherings.)

Democratic politicians in attendance included state lawmakers Linda Newell, Suzanne Williams, Nancy Todd and Dan Pabon; Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech; and Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio. Others in the room included political consultant David Kenney and the wife of U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, environmental attorney Maggie Fox.

The First Lady’s visit comes just two days after a four-city campaign swing through Colorado by President Obama, who held rallies in Denver, Grand Junction, Pueblo and Colorado Springs last week. Her most recent public appearance in the state was in June at a packed rally inside a high school gymnasium Centennial.

Obama arrived in Denver following a lunchtime fundraiser at the Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo. After the Denver event, she was scheduled to depart for Los Angeles to attend three fundraisers on Sunday and Monday and also to tape her third appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” set to air Monday night.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com