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CINCINNATI - "I come here today as a Christian,'' Michelle Obama said yesterday to a standing ovation at a convention of mostly black Baptists. She appealed not only for their prayers but for their votes for her husband.
"This election is going to change the world,'' she said. "This election will determine the course of an entire generation. Just think about that.
"I know that no one here wants to look back and think, 'Wouldn't that have been great?'•" she said. "I don't want to think about what might have been. I want to look back and think, 'We did it. We really did it, and we did it together.'•''
The nonprofit National Baptist Convention USA Inc. is not permitted to endorse a candidate, but there was no doubt that the crowd of about 4,700 watching her speech in the convention center ballroom and in an overflow room receiving a video feed was firmly behind Sen. Barack Obama.
The chants of "Yes we can!'' gave it away if the shouts of "I love you!'' didn't.
"In his candidacy, the hopes of generations are finding expression," convention President William J. Shaw said. "In that same candidacy, the fears of many are finding fresh life. It is our hope that prayer always overrides fear."
Mr. Obama, who campaigned in Virginia and taped an appearance with David Letterman yesterday, has been dogged by Internet rumors that he's a Muslim. He also has been criticized for ties to his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Mrs. Obama mentioned neither in her 25-minute speech, nor did she refer to her husband's Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain. The McCain campaign did not offer a reaction when contacted last night.
Mr. Obama has attempted to wrest the "faith'' advantage from Republicans. In July, he used a community ministry in Zanesville, Ohio, to try to do President Bush one better, calling for greater support for the President's own faith-based initiatives that pick up education and social services when government falls short.
Mrs. Obama urged the crowd to think of people in their congregations - mothers raising children alone as their husbands fight in Iraq, the man who lost his job to downsizing, families whose wages aren't keeping pace with rising gasoline and grocery prices, and women who earn less than men in the workplace.
"So the question we should ask is, shouldn't we have policies that reflect this reality, policies that reflect we are all in this together, policies that express our values and honor?'' she said. "Shouldn't we have leaders who get it?''
She asked for the prayers of the conventioneers, but she went a step further in urging them to ensure that those in their congregations register to vote by the Oct. 6 deadline and then cast a ballot on Nov. 4.
"It's a simple choice,'' she said. "We can either settle for the world as it is or we can fight and struggle for the world as it should be. There are plenty of people out there who think that the world as it is is just fine. They're satisfied with the past eight years, but Barack Obama believes that the world as it is just won't do.''
Kathy White, minister of the Second Baptist Church in Jackson, Mich., said it should come as no surprise that members of the convention are behind Mr. Obama.
"Martin Luther King was a member of this organization when he first started out,'' she said. "This is the same organization that saw Dr. King through his struggles in the 1960s. The hopes and fears of the founders of this convention are seeing those dreams come true in Barack Obama.''
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