As new early-voting sites opened across North Carolina, First Lady Michelle Obama made her first campaign appearance with Hillary Clinton today at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem.
A beloved figured in the Democratic Party, especially among African-American voters — a key demographic in the Clinton campaign’s hopes to carry North Carolina — Obama took star billing during a spirited and heavily choreographed rally that drew an estimated 10,500 people.
Obama closed her speech by highlighting the state’s crucial role in the election, noting that her husband carried North Carolina by only 14,000 votes in 2008, but lost it to Mitt Romney in 2012.
“When you break that down the difference between winning and losing this state was a little over two votes per precinct,” Obama said of the 2008 election.
“In this stadium each of you could swing an entire precinct and win this election for Hillary,” the first lady said. “You could also help swing an entire precinct for Hillary’s opponent with a protest vote or by not voting at all. So here’s what I’m asking you: Get out and vote. Get out and vote for Hillary. Vote early. Go right now. When you leave here, go vote.”
Obama noted that the federal courts recently overturned an effort to limit early voting in North Carolina.
“I want you to remember that folks marched and protested for our right to vote,” she said. “They endured beatings and jail time, and sacrificed their lives for this right.”
Obama also sought to counter the effect of a steady drip of emails from Wikileaks showing that donors to the Clinton Foundation bought access to the State Department, which opponent Donald Trump has used to raise doubts about Clinton among voters.
“If Hillary doesn’t win this election, that will be on us,” Obama warned. “It will be because we did not stand with her. It will be because we did not vote for her. And that is exactly what her opponent is hoping will happen. That’s the strategy — to make this election so dirty and ugly that we don’t want any part of it. So when you hear folks talking about a global conspiracy and saying that this election is rigged, understand that they are trying to get you to stay home.”
While Obama urged people with reservations about Clinton’s candidacy to get off the fence, Clinton used the event to highlight pay tribute to the first lady in hopes of cementing her relationship with black voters.
In a lighter passage of her speech Clinton talked about how much she loved watching President Obama and the first lady dance, and quipped, “It hasn’t been all hard work. She also plays a mean round of carpool karaoke.”
The two women played up their shared experience as the wives of presidents — an emphasis meant to both humanize Clinton and energize voters around a pro-woman message in contrast to Trump’s continuing scandals over his statements about groping women, along with demeaning and objectifying language about them.
“First ladies — we rock,” Obama said.
Clinton talked about how she and Obama shared the experience of raising children in the White House.
“Let’s be real: As our first African-American first lady, she’s faced pressures I never did,” Clinton said. “She’s handled them with pure grace. She’s been an outstanding first lady who’s made all of us proud.”
The event drew an all-star cast of national and local Democratic figures, both to rally support behind the party’s presidential nominee and build a Democratic tide to elect candidates further down the ballot, from US Senate candidate Deborah Ross to Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines and Councilwoman Denise D. Adams. US Reps. Alma Adams and GK Butterfield appeared with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and even civil rights leader Jesse Jackson appeared onstage, although he did not speak. And a former US senator, Kay Hagan, introduced Ross.
Pushing early voting, Ross noted that a recent federal court decision means voters don’t need to show ID to exercise franchise and that they can register and vote on the same day during the early-voting period.
“You know why that is?” asked Ross, a former member of the state House. “Because I got that law passed in 2007.”
Attempting to link her opponent, Republican incumbent Richard Burr, to his party’s presidential nominee, Ross said, “Mr. Burr has a name for me, too. He calls me ‘radical.’ I don’t think it’s radical for women to have equal pay for equal work.”
Ross also used her time to urge people to vote for Michael Morgan, a candidate for state Supreme Court who is considered more friendly to the Democratic agenda in Raleigh than incumbent Bob Edmunds.
Meanwhile, Clinton and Obama both plugged Ross and Roy Cooper, the Democratic candidate for governor. (Cooper was a notable absence on the stage.)
“He will always put the people of North Carolina first,” Clinton said of Cooper, “and he will repeal HB 2 because he knows discrimination is wrong, it’s bad for business, and it’s against North Carolina values.”
Some of the sharpest attacks against Trump came from US Rep. Alma Adams, who represents the 12th Congressional District.
“Bless his heart, he proposed a ‘new deal’ for black Americans,” Adams said. “If it’s anything like his deal with his contractors, he’s going to cheat us and leave the bill for us. Trump was a man who was sued by the federal government because he wouldn’t deal with African Americans, so there’s no doubt in my mind that under a President Trump the same doors of opportunity that were closed to my generation will stay closed.
“I call on all the nasty women and all the bad hombres to turn out at the ballot box,” Adams added. “Vote early. Come on Winston, let’s turn this mother out.”
Councilwoman Denise D. Adams, who represents the North Ward on Winston-Salem City Council, worked the crowd while describing her experience voting at the Brown Douglass Recreation Center polling place earlier in the day.
“There were over a hundred people in the line, and I’m not talking about inside,” Adams said. “I’m talking about the line all the way out to the parking lot, down by the church. Young people. Old people. Black people. LGBT people.”
Emphasizing her bond with Clinton — her husband’s former rival in the 2008 election and later secretary of state — Michelle Obama said she, President Obama and Clinton all came from “working families.”
“Hillary knows what it means to struggle for what you have and to want something better for your kids,” Obama said.
She closed by alluding to the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy, while connecting her to her husband’s path-breaking rise. The United States, Obama said, is “a country where a biracial kid from Hawaii, the son of a single mother can make it to the White House, where the daughter of an orphan can break that highest and hardest glass ceiling and become president of the United States.”