CLEVELAND - Michelle Obama, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, came back to Ohio yesterday to detail the obstacles her husband has overcome in seeking the nomination of his party - raising money, building a grass-roots organization, and winning several primaries and caucuses in early contest states.
And yet, Mrs. Obama said, it seems every time her husband has overcome what was supposed to be an important hurdle in the campaign, pundits and political talking heads "moved the bar" ever higher.
After her husband's Iowa victory, "all of a sudden, Iowa wasn't important," she said.
Moving the bar and changing the rules of the game - "That's what's been going on for regular folks in this country for a long time," she said.
Mrs. Obama addressed about 1,000 of her husband's supporters on the near-downtown campus of Cleveland State University.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced before Mrs. Obama spoke that he was endorsing her husband. His endorsement was made five days before Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama are to debate there.
Surrounded by "Change we can believe in" banners, Mrs. Obama painted a picture of her life growing up in a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago, a "community of regular folks," as she put it.
Her father was a municipal worker, her mother stayed home and she and her brother - who both graduated from Princeton University - attended a neighborhood public school.
"This is what an investment in public education can look like," she said, pointing to herself, to loud cheers and applause from the crowd.
Then she drove home the reason she said Ohio voters should support her husband.
"The life that I had is becoming farther and farther out of reach," Mrs. Obama said.
She also spoke of her husband's work fighting for underprivileged people in Chicago.
And she tackled criticisms that her husband's speeches are just words that won't translate into concrete action.
"I believe we need to be inspired," she said. "It's not just empty rhetoric."
She was attracted to her husband because he lives by the principle, "To whom much is given, much is expected," she said.
With his ability and education, her husband - a graduate of Harvard Law School and the first black person in the school's history to serve as president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review - could have easily gone to work on Wall Street, Mrs. Obama said. Instead, he chose to become a community organizer.
"Imagine a president of the United States that brings that kind of experience into the White House," she said, addressing the criticism that Mr. Obama, as a first-term Senator, is inexperienced.
She also challenged the idea that her husband isn't tough enough to take on the Republican Party's challenger.
"We live in Chicago, baby," she said. Mrs. Obama added that her husband was seasoned with years of experience in tough Illinois politics.
She spoke out against the war in Iraq and reminded the crowd that Mr. Obama had the courage to speak out against it in a tight race for his Senate seat from Illinois.
Finally, Mrs. Obama spoke about the importance of Ohio and its March 4 primary election.
"This state is huge," she said.
She added, "We know Barack can do well, but we need you praying with us, working with us, and standing with us," she said.
As Mrs. Obama left the stage, the crowd surged toward her, taking pictures with cell phone cameras and trying to shake her hand.
Claudette Blackmon, who works at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, said she is particularly interested in Mr. Obama's plan for affordable health care, though she also is attracted to Mr. Obama's charisma.
"I haven't felt like this since the 1960's," said Donna Whyte, who was clutching an autograph she received from Mrs. Obama after her speech.
"Hope is what we had then."
She added, "I certainly never have had any affinity to any candidate in the years I've voted like I do to [Senator Obama]."
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