Michelle Obama makes fundraising pleas: ‘Like it or not, we’re all in this together’

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

The president is facing a very tough re-election campaign, first lady Michelle Obama told audiences at three Florida fundraisers on Thursday.

“This is going to require each of you to grab somebody by the shoulders and make them understand what’s at stake; how their self-interest is directly tied … It’s up to each of you to work like you’ve never worked before,” Mrs. Obama told an afternoon crowd of 200 people at the waterfront Tampa home of property developer Joel Cantor.

She used the same mix of threats and promises at a lunchtime fundraiser in Jacksonville. “This is not a joke. The choices are clear. We need you fired up and ready to go, working hard every minute of the day,” she said at the end of her stump speech. “We don’t have time to joke around. You got to shake people up. You got to get them ready to roll. We can do this.”

The first lady’s alarmist tone is certainly justified by the polls, which show her husband trailing in swing states, low in national surveys, disadvantaged by the national mood and nearly out of time to spur an election-saving economic recovery.

In a late September survey from the Democratic survey firm Public Policy Polling, President Obama had an approval rating of only 46 percent in Florida. His disapproval ratings was 51 percent.

But’s he’s ahead in the fundraising game, partly because of the first lady.

On Tuesday Michelle Obama held a fundraiser in Detroit. On Wednesday, she held another in Chicago, before heading to Florida for three more.

Those came after the president held top-dollar fundraisers this week in Nevada, California and Colorado.

Her events are smaller, raise less money, and include more women than the president’s events.

Mrs. Obama’s Tampa fundraiser, for example, charged $1,000 for general admission, $5,000 for admission and a photo with the first lady, and $38,500 to be included on the official host committee. That $38,500 price includes donations to the Democratic National Committee.

Her evening event at Jacksonville drew roughly 300 people, mostly women, according to a report from the White House press pool. The evening featured two African-American celebrities, singer Deborah Cox and Tracy Mourning, the wife of retired professional basketball player Alonzo Mourning. Tickets cost $500 and the host committee paid $25,000 each.

Campaign officials declined to say how much money the events raised.

At all five fundraisers, the first lady argued that Americans have responsibility to each other, that President Obama is a progressive leader who empathizes with the needs of Americans, and that government can address those needs.

“We can’t separate our individual stories from the broader American story,” she declared in Tampa. “Like it or not, we’re all in this together. And that’s how it should be.”

In Fort Lauderdale, she repeated her claim that the president understands what Americans need. “I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed and he’s up late at night poring over briefings and letters from people who have shared their stories … I hear the passion and the determination in his voice: ‘You won’t believe what folks are going through’ — that’s what he tells me.  He says, ‘Michelle, this isn’t right. We’ve got to fix it. We’ve got so much more to do,’” she said.

“What your President carries with him every day … is our collection of hopes and struggles and dreams,” she said.

Government can solve all of those problems, she told each audience. “If we make the right choices and have the right priorities, just like we teach our kids, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and has a chance to get ahead,” she said in Tampa.

“We know that if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone — everyone — gets a fair shake and a chance to get ahead,” she said in Fort Lauderdale.

But this progressive nirvana isn’t as close as it might have seemed in 2008, she told her audiences.

“I’m not going to kid you — this journey is going to be long, and it will surely be hard… We always get there. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetime or our grandchildren’s lifetimes.” her Fort Lauderdale audience heard.

Every event ended the same way, with Ms. Obama rallying her fans, and calling on them to make a big personal commitment to the Democratic Party’s leader for one more campaign.

“He cannot do this alone,” she declared. “He needs your help. He needs you out there, understanding these stakes, helping others who might be lost and confused … He needs you to take those ‘I’m in’ [registration] cards, fill them out, sign up, get your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, your congregation members.

“Shake them up. Convince them to join in this effort and to invest just a little part of their life each week to this campaign.  That’s what Barack Obama needs from you. “

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